Song Dogs And Supper

Close of hunting got you down? Spice up midwinter with an Eastern Washington predator shoot.

By Vincent Bator

WARDEN, Wash.—Deer season: Over. Elk and bear: Ended. Ditto with pheasant, quail, duck and dove.

So now what’s left for a Northwest sportsman to hunt? Predators, of course.

If you’re up to a competitive challenge in both shooting and hunting skills, join the over 100 other teams in making the pilgrimage to this Grant County town Feb. 4-5, 2011, where a bit of flavor is added by the local Lions Club for their 5th Annual “Spaghetti Feed.”

So what’s Italian chow got to do with hunting, you might ask? Well, umm, camouflage is usually worn to conceal what’s really behind it.

“Many think of Warden – if they’ve even heard of it – as a sleepy little hamlet tucked away in Central Washington’s Columbia Basin,” says Lions Club organizer Shawn Clausen (509-750-9822), “but it’s also Dog Central when it comes to coyote hunting.”

And predator hunters appear to be waking up to this event as evidenced by increasing attendance as well as proportionally greater harvest brought in.

“We began this fundraiser with only a handful of mainly local participants bringing in about one coyote per team. The tally last year was 77 teams and 134 dogs. That generates a lot of money for scholarships and funding for our charitable programs.”

Says his brother, Boe, “We’ve got varminteers from all over the state coming to participate in this 24-hour hunt that spans nine Eastern Washington counties. So more than likely, many a contestant’s own backyard is within our (state) permit so they don’t necessarily have to try and find their way around in an entirely new area.”

LIONS AREN’T THE ONLY BENEFICIARY of this event. Cattle are too. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Cattle Death Loss report, cattle and calf losses from animal predators totaled 190,000 head in 2006. This represented 4.7 percent of the total losses from all causes and resulted in a loss of $92.7 million to farmers and ranchers. Coyotes and dogs caused the majority of cattle and calf losses, accounting for 51.1 percent and 11.5 percent, respectively.

Jack Field, executive vice president for the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, indicates that animal predation may reduce any given year’s calving by upwards of 3 percent for their 1,500-strong membership base.

“With an inventory of about 250,000 mother cows, cattlemen sustain losses of about $1.5 million annually attributed to animal predation that they must absorb since there is no compensation vehicle available from the state Legislature. That’s a pretty significant hit to the bottom line considering operational costs have skyrocketed,” says Field, who also sits on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Wolf Working Group.

AT LEAST 50,000 COYOTES are believed to be living in Washington according to WDFW’s Web site, though that number may be low.

“I’d say that was a very conservative estimate,” says wildlife biologist Rick Singer at WDFW’s Ephrata office. “Since our focus is primarily engaged in the study of waterfowl, upland birds and big game species, we can’t ignore animals as visible as coyotes as having their place in the ecosystem.”

With the state encompassing 66,582 square miles, this amounts to an estimated .75 coyotes per square mile, but we sure as heck know they’re not living on top of Mount Rainier. And though they’re documented as being there, not too many inhabit the state’s urban metropolitan areas either. It’s no wonder we see so many east of the mountains.

So who’s a cattleman to call when a coyote problem arises?

“Us, but it isn’t a giveaway,” says Ken Gruver, assistant director of the USDA’s Wildlife Services for Washington and Alaska.

Now maintaining an aircraft, aptly nicknamed Dog Fighter, at the Othello, Wash., airport, the agency finally has a means of combating the problematic Canis latrans.

“Our agency was initially established for the purpose of livestock protection on a cooperatively funded basis, but has since evolved into the much broader scope of preventing and resolving human-wildlife conflicts,” states Gruver with a trace of Texas accent. “With the implementation of aerial predator control, our agents finally have an expedited method in fulfilling the requests of our applicants. We’re not out there looking over the whole country, just specific areas where the problem exists.”

A MODEST ENTRY FEE of $100 per team, er, I mean $50 per plate, provides participants with “tags”  for their coyotes, a hot dinner on return Saturday and raffle tickets for the many prizes provided at the awards banquet. Registration begins at 4 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Warden Municipal Airport off Highway 170 with the dinner bell signaling the conclusion at 6 p.m. the next day.

For those wishing to display their shooting prowess, a 300-yard, three-shot target is awaiting early arrivals on Saturday. Incidentally, to accommodate the working crowd, only one of a two-man team needs to be present to register. Make certain to have your small- or big-game license in your pocket.

Alongside Cougar football, with the Lions Club as hosts, you might say this is again the case where the cats get to chase the dogs.

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