That fall is partly due to a coyote control program that resulted in a 147 dead animals last year.
In this Dec. 29, 2005, file photo, a coyote stands on top of a snow bank near the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 near Lincoln. Credit: Kevin Bennett / BDN

NEW SWEDEN, Maine — Deer hunters are seeing a drop in the coyote population in the wilderness areas of Aroostook County.

The drop is due in part to the Aroostook County Conservation Association’s coyote control management program, which is in its 14th year. During its first season in 2008-09, hunters were seeing at least two or three coyotes on the white tail deer tracks, but that number has declined in recent years.

The coyote management program was created to keep the animal’s population in check around wintering grounds, giving the depleted deer herds in northern Maine a chance to rebound. Between the annual coyote kill and supplemental food sources, the deer population is on the rise in Aroostook County.

In 2021, hunters and trappers killed 147 coyotes — down from the previous year, according to Jerry McLaughlin, the president and founder of the Aroostook County Conservation Association.

“In the areas where the coyote is so populated, [they] come in around homes and take little cats and little dogs. A buddy of mine in Van Buren the other morning let his dog out, a good-sized dog, and a big coyote met him face-to-face and they almost got into it and the guy grabbed his gun and killed the coyote,” McLaughlin said.

The largest number of coyotes killed during the program was 209 in the 2019-20 season, 164 in 2020-21 and 77 in 2021-22. Approximately 60 percent are killed by trapping and 40 percent by hunting, according to the Aroostook County Conservation Association.

“Everybody I talked to is seeing all kinds of deer, all kinds of does and lambs. The great thing is our [fawns] are our future, and I’m seeing does with two [fawns], some does with three, which means they had a good winter,” McLaughlin said.

The deer herd’s comeback is not entirely due to the coyote control program, according to McLaughlin.

The Conservation Association supplements the deer population’s food sources with an alfalfa mixture grown at Guerrette Farms in Caribou. The alfalfa is cut, wrapped and shipped off to be weighed in New York and sent back. The first cut is 19 percent protein, and the second cut is 22 percent protein. It’s working well for the white tail deer, McLaughlin said.

The white-tailed deer have lost about half of their habitat in northern Maine, forcing herds into towns across Allagash, and south to Benedicta in Aroostook County.

McLaughlin said when coyotes are in good health with plenty of deer to eat, their populations drastically increase.

The control program runs from Oct. 16 to March 18, 2023, with the numbers of coyotes trapped and killed tallied up a couple days after the end date.

Thirty hunters and trappers are signed up for the Aroostook County Conservation Association’s 14th annual coyote control management program.

The association pays $25 for each coyote killed. Local businesses and individual hunters fund the payouts. The coyotes can be tagged for their pelts at S.W. Collins Hardware, Hemphill & Sons Butchery and Mac’s Trading Post.

Sign-ups and $25 ticket purchases to take part in the program are available at five locations: Spartans Arms and Ammo in Presque Isle, S.W. Collins Hardware in Fort Kent, Hemphill & Sons Butchery in Woodland, Northstar Variety in New Sweden and Mac’s Trading Post in Houlton.

Aroostook Conservation also reports the tags to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to help biologists keep track of the coyote population. Aroostook County Conservation Association was founded by McLaughlin in 2008.