The coyote is a canid animal, native to North America. Closely related yet smaller than its cousin, the wolf, it is a highly versatile species that is abundantly and widely distributed across North America. Due to its intrusive nature and habits, it often proves quite the nuisance for humans. It will scavenge through garbage and pester or even attack domestic animals, such as dogs, cats or livestock. In response, humans have practiced coyote hunting for many years, utilizing traps, baits and lures to catch the elusive intruder.
Track finding Basics: Footprint
Interpreting signs like footprints, natural paths and nibbled plants to discover which animal passed by a certain area recently is called the art of tracking. It is a useful skill to develop, if you’re interested in hunting animals or, perhaps most importantly, taking note of the animals passing by in your area to be able to better protect it from intruders.
A big deal of tracking is identifying the animal that left the tracks. The best way to accomplish this to examine its footprints, paying attention to the following factors:
- The size of the print: A coyote will naturally leave a much smaller footprint than a bear, for example.
- The number of toes: Different animals have a different number of toes, a fact than can be very revealing if one is knowledgeable about the area’s animals.
- Whether or not nail prints are visible: Feline prints don’t show the nails, whereas those left by wolves or bears show long, deep claw marks.
- Whether the back and front prints are of the same size: Many animals, including dogs, cats and foxes, have front and back feet of exactly the same size. On the flip side, other animals, such as a rabbit or a hare have tiny front and relatively large back feet.
- Whether the prints were left by a hoofed animal: A hoof would obviously point towards the direction of a deer, moose, elk or a similar hoofed animal.
Identifying the track pattern
Not only can you use the track pattern to predict the animal’s direction, you can also use it to help determine what type of animal left them, as different animal species have different gaits. The most common track patterns are the following:
- Diagonal walker pattern: Felines, canines and hoofed animals lift the front and hind legs on opposite sides simultaneously, thus leaving behind them staggered tracks.
- Pacer pattern: Bears, beavers and other wide-bodied animals lift the front and hind legs on the same side of the body, simultaneously.
- Bounder pattern: Weasels, ferrets and badgers hop so that their front feet land first and their back feet land next.
- Galloper pattern: Animals that gallop when they move, like rabbits and hares, leave prints that tend to look like a “U”, due to their long, larger back feet.
Coyote tracks look very similar to dog tracks, to the untrained eye. However, after close inspection, one can tell a few distinguishing characteristics that make clear the tracks are of a coyote. Generally, an average coyote will leave tracks falling roughly under the following parameters:
The coyote print has two nail prints at the top of the paw, in addition to having a large heel impression. They appear in straight lines, with the hind foot’s track almost overlapping with the track of the front foot. The front paw print measures approximately between two and a half inches long and two inches wide, and the hind paw print is approximately two and one fourth inches long and one and three fourth inches wide.
Coyotes, much like any other canids, are unable to retract their claws. Therefore, claw marks are nearly always visible on their tracks – unless the coyote walked on a really hard surface. Typically, coyote paw prints show two defined claw marks on the middle toes.
As for their stride, in a trot, a coyote’s stride falls between sixteen and eighteen inches, with the hind tracks in line with or on top of the front tracks. They walk in straight paths nearly always, making their tracks almost completely linear and even.
There are many aspects in animal tracking. It is highly recommended to first educate yourself heavily on the matter, before drawing hasty conclusions. Different kinds of animal species leave different prints and marks and walk in different patterns. Even so, there are great and many similarities amongst the different species, so it would be quite easy to mistake a dog’s tracks with a coyote’s. Therefore, unless you have prior experience or are in a state of emergency, consulting a professional might be your best bet in identifying animal tracks.