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Shoot first, ask questions later is bad plan of attack

With coyotes you take good with bad. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

With coyotes, you take the good with the bad. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:58PM

The view from the observation deck:

Oh deer! Have you heard about the elk controversy near Antioch, where a senior citizen in a tree stand shot what he thought were two elk, but turned out to be European red deer that had escaped from a farm.

It came up a few times at the Lion’s Club’s Bill Brook Memorial Wild Game Dinner in Fox Lake on Wednesday night. The hunter is not being charged because there are no regulations for red deer in Illinois because they aren’t native to Illinois.

He insists he thought they were elk, maybe coming down from Wisconsin where they have been reintroduced, but state wildlife officials say there is no way they would have made it down from Wisconsin. So in the end, what we have here is a hunter who failed to identify his prey.

That’s all it boils down to. The hunter is responsible for correctly identifying what he is shooting and there are no excuses. When in doubt, don’t shoot. Simple as that. I hope the hunter returns the meat to the rightful owner, even though he is apparently free to keep it.

The hunter was in the wrong in this case.

I was grabbing my briefcase from the van in the parking lot outside the office in Gurnee this week when I heard my first gurgle or chortle of the fall migration: sandhill cranes.

They are usually so high up you have to look for some time before you see the “V,” and there have been times when I was watching them, and they turned and literally disappeared. Then, as they turned again, they became visible again because of the way the sun was hitting their feathers.

Once you get to know their call, you won’t ever forget it. So if you hear a strange chortle and you look up and don’t see anything, keep looking, or just stand for a moment and listen. It’s musical in nature’s way.

I went to the always fascinating talk about coyotes by Stan Gehrt of Ohio State University, the leading expert on urban coyotes in the Chicago region and also got an additional bonus with Adrian Wydeven who studies wolves for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The program was put on by Conserve Lake County (formerly Liberty Prairie Conservancy) and Friends of Ryerson Woods, along with the Lake County Forest Preserve, Lake Forest Open Lands and the Wildlife Discovery Center.

Gehrt is one of those natural speakers who seems to entertain the audience with ease. He showed how coyotes were generally a prairie animal and their population was centered in the great prairie states west of here.

Then, he showed the map of how they have expanded their populations like no other carnivore in history. He has a great Web site called where you can read about his 379 radio-collared coyotes who all share a cellphone family plan that send him data about their whereabouts.

For the most part, his message is that coyotes really don’t want to interact with us and they are all around us when we don’t even know it. It’s only when humans feed them or feed other wildlife and attract them that trouble starts.

He has no problem with a lethal solution to problem animals. On the other hand, he also urges people to keep conditioning coyotes by yelling and throwing things at them if they come close so they know to stay away.

He has a good sense of humor, as when a Lake Forest woman asked if it really helped to have her husband go out and urinate at different spots along their ravine to keep the coyotes out.

“Are you sure there isn’t some other reason you are making your husband do that?” he said, causing a cascade of laughter from the 200 or so people who showed up for the program. And yes, it might help mark the territory against coyotes.

He estimated there are about 2,000 coyotes in the Chicagoland area, which includes downtown Chicago. In comparison, there are 500,000 dogs. About 5 percent of the coyotes are harvested as problem animals, including those at O’Hare Airport.

Wydeven said he isn’t a researcher as much as a manager in Wisconsin, although they do radio-collar wolves and count tracks during the winter. This was the first year for a wolf hunt and there were 116 permits issued that 1,160 hunters applied for, which could seem like a lot, except there are 815 wolves in 213 packs scattered across northern Wisconsin, but they are getting closer to Illinois.

They now are just north of the Wisconsin Dells.

But they like large expanses of woodlands and he doesn’t see them repopulating let’s say, in Lake County. He has also found that wolves help certain forest forbs and seedlings by keeping the deer population down.

The main diet is deer and beaver, which surprised me. Some of the young males have dispersed from the packs and travelled through and were shot in southern Illinois and Indiana, but he doesn’t see them settings up home around here.

You can read more of his work at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Web site. As of that night, 63 wolves had been harvested in Wisconsin.

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