Predators are still fair game; Biting into those that would bite you.
There's a myth that predators can't be eaten. Other than polar bear liver, which contains lethal levels of vitamin A, predator meat can prove surprisingly edible and, in some cases, delicious. I've eaten mountain lion and margay, a rain forest cat served to me by Quichua Indians in the Amazon. Both were good, light meat with a distinctive flavor. In China, I once unknowingly was served skewered dog, which was lean, a little like beef, but otherwise unremarkable.
Although fox and coyote can be edible -- no different than dog -- neither is considered good table fare here. Even those who regularly pick up and dine on local road kills avoid them. There are several good reasons.
Their highly variable diet, like that of scavenging crows, can include foul carrion, which may impact their flavor negatively. Their susceptibility to mange, distemper and rabies, as well as their habit of rolling like domestic dogs in very smelly substances, has put them off my menu. But for those who will eat anything that doesn't eat them first, they can provide good nutrition and, with good recipes, passable meals.
I've seen several jerky and crock-pot recipes for them. Tufts researcher Dr. Sam Telford notes that the Swiss popularized fuchspfeffer, or fox stew, until the European animal rights movement took hold in the 1970s. He recommended reading the book of former Dean of UC Davis Veterinary School Dr. Calvin Schwabe, "Unmentionable Cuisine,'' the bible for "unusual'' foods. Schwabe would eat almost any wild game -- and lived to write about it.
But Telford also notes that fox and coyote are hosts for a potentially dangerous tapeworm called echinococcus. Ingested eggs from their feces can cause hydatid disease, characterized by a tumorous growth in the liver or other abdominal area. Worse, it can cause alveolar hydatid disease or multilocular hydatidosis, a truly scary disease, which results in hundreds of tumor-like cysts in the lungs. There is no cure; patients always die.
Telford recommends hunters and trappers who handle fox and coyote carcasses always do so carefully with gloves and wash their hands to prevent any fecal contamination on the fur from getting into their system.
Although trichinosis is associated mostly with pigs and bears, it can occur in canids, too. Thorough cooking, however, neutralizes that disease.
Far more fox and coyote hunters will find value in their furs. Mass. Trappers Association president Malcolm Speicher said fur prices, thanks to foreign demand, are rising sharply, with local gray foxes bringing about $37, and both red foxes and coyotes fetching about $45. Western coyotes, although much smaller than our eastern part-wolf coyotes, are commanding as much as $70 because they have much finer belly fur. Our bigger coyotes have coarser, longer and less desirable fur thanks to the genetic influence of wolves. Buyers from all over the world will hold big auctions next month, though, and make the season's final statement about local fur prices.
Many believe -- although this is subject to considerable debate -- that our coyote population needs thinning. Two neighbors who have lost cats blame the local coyote pack, and most local deer hunters I hear from fervently believe that coyotes kill too many fawns and game birds here.
To take a wily coyote or fox isn't easy. You're not likely to just serendipitously come upon either one. Effective strategies necessarily include legal use of bait (often deer processing leftovers), decoys, electronic or manual calls, and dogs. Artificial lights, which would be very helpful, are prohibited, so hunting till midnight, the end of legal shooting time, requires special silhouette and/or moonlight circumstances that are greatly enhanced by snowpack.
To many, the coyote locally has become the equivalent of the big, bad wolf. Its reputation, now approaching mythical proportions, is largely exaggerated and undeserved. For deer hunters who don't want to share their game, demonizing them comes naturally. Sure, they'll take some fawns during the first couple of birthing weeks, as will local bears and bobcats, but that number, according to all the Massachusetts biologists I talk to, is not oppressive as it is in some other parts of the country.
For most of the year, local coyotes primarily hunt rodents, which are much easier to pursue here. Their constant predation of mice, rats, voles and woodchucks is overwhelmingly beneficial to us. Nevertheless, those who are convinced that coyotes are malevolence incarnate may be happy to learn that natural factors can lower their local populations. Heartworms and distemper perennially threaten coyotes from Cape Cod to the Berkshires.
While hunting whitetails this fall on the Mosier Ranch in Kansas, I learned that coyote hunters weren't welcome there because the rancher values the super rodent destroyers' presence.
Fox hunting ends Feb. 28, while coyote hunting continues through March 8. For those who would otherwise experience depression with the end of the deer and waterfowl seasons, this is a good excuse to postpone putting away all our hunting gear.
Contact Mark Blazis at firstname.lastname@example.org.