SUBSCRIBE NOW

Commission OKs night vision optics, lights for coyote hunting

Josh Rouse
Pratt Tribune
Hunters in Kansas will be able to utilize new tools when trying to keep an increasing coyote population in check this hunting season. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Sill, Gfeller dissent in 5-2 vote to approval KWPT proposal

Kansas coyote hunters will now be able to use lights and night optics to pursue their prey at night, following a vote by wildlife officials Thursday evening.

The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission on Aug. 20 approved a proposal allowing the use of lights and night-vision or thermal imaging equipment to hunt coyotes at night in the state during its monthly commission meeting, held via Zoom.

The proposal passed 5-2, with Commissioners Lauren Queal Sill, of Hutchinson, and Warren Gfeller, of Russell, dissenting.

Several members of the public voiced opposition to the proposal, expressing concerns about poaching, safety, trespassing and proper species identification as a result of hunting at night.

"I have great concerns with the ability of the already short-staffed game wardens per county to be able to patrol these areas with increased criminal trespassing at night," said Lane Hensley, of Liberal, during the public comment section. "It seems to me our guys have a hard-enough time in the light of day. Keep in mind, we are one of the best whitetail destinations in the nation. Legalizing this would be putting that resource in jeopardy, to say the least. If this passes, the whole state would turn into walk-in (hunting) at night. It would be wise to invest in more ticket books."

However, Kansas coyote hunters already were able to hunt at night year-round, but had to do so without the aid of artificial light and night optic technologies.

Many of those who spoke in favor of the proposal were farmers and ranchers who saw monetary damages from predation by coyotes on their property.

Austin Lanier, a Sedgick County farmer and sportsman, was one of the members of the public to speak in favor of the proposal.

"I'm very excited about it and I urge you guys to pass it," Lanier said prior to the vote. "As far as the safety concerns and everything, though, I do understand that. That has to be addressed, but the safety concerns are there during the day hunting, too. If somebody's going to break the law, they're going to do it at night or during the day.

"I also want to tell you that, as far as the coyote population, it is expanding rapidly. Last year alone, I caught 20 coyotes within a one-mile radius of my farm and my cattle herd. I love to cull them, but at least around the city here and everything, culling has failed. At least during the day."

Clayton Smultz, of Johnson City, also strongly encouraged the passage of the proposal, saying the large coyote population in southwest Kansas had affected his cattle herd and pocket book within the past two years.

"I run a 40,000-head heifer development yard. Since I started reporting causes of death 20 months ago ... I've lost 118 head due to coyotes. At $500 apiece, that is nearly $60,000 in loss due to the uprising of coyotes. We've done everything we possibly can to diminish these things."

KDWPT wildlife research biologist Matt Peek, of Emporia, said during the meeting he did not expect this proposal to be a significant population-control measure, and said last year's coyote harvest was already at a record high at more than 175,000.

"This is going to be one more of a series of techniques that are already used to take 'em," Peek said. "The advantage that these livestock producers are talking about is it can be used to address, most effectively, specific instances of damage and specific individual coyotes that are not as likely to be taken in other ways.“

Under the proposal, only coyotes would be allowed to be hunted using the artificial lights or optics. Other furbearers such as bobcats and foxes couldn’t be taken using those methods.

Season dates for the use of the equipment would be from Jan. 1 through March 31, and the use of the equipment would not be allowed from a vehicle. It would also be prohibited on department lands and waters, including Walk-in Hunting Area properties.

A $2.50 permit will initially be required for use of this equipment for coyote hunting at night so that the department can learn more about the demand and frequency of use. One of the public commenters suggested making the permit more costly, in the $400-$500 range, to cut down on the number of people participating and keep safety concerns in check. However, Commission Chairman Gerald Lauber, of Topeka, said he didn’t want to price anybody out of what already would be a costly pastime.

The next regularly scheduled KWPT Commission meeting is set for Sept. 24, likely also via Zoom.