Pennsylvania's three species of wild canids -- coyotes, red foxes and gray foxes -- are well known but seldom seen. Coyotes are the largest of the group, weighing in at 25 to 50 pounds. Red and gray foxes weigh 7 to 11 pounds, but reds often seem much bigger due to their luxurious fur coat.
Though elusive, wild canids are found statewide and are relatively common. For hunters, there is no closed season or bag limit on coyotes; fox hunting season opened Oct. 20 and runs through Saturday with no bag limit. The no-limit trapping season for coyotes and foxes opened Oct. 21 and closes next Sunday.
Interest in hunting and trapping coyotes and foxes depends largely on fur prices. Over the last 27 years, for example, Game Commission data show that pelt prices peaked at $29.15 for red fox in 1986-87 (44,087 licenses were sold, the number harvested unavailable), $43.84 for gray fox in 2007-08 (28,032 licenses sold, 18,613 harvested), and $31.57 for coyote in 1986-87 (number harvested unavailable).
Since then, pelt prices bottomed out at $8.83 for red fox in 1990-91 (20,377 licenses sold, 32,699 harvested), $4.84 for gray fox in 1998-99 (25,877 licenses sold, 32,922 harvested), and $6.40 for coyote in 1998-99 (11,652 harvested). The number of licenses sold dipped to 17,591 in 1999.
In 2011-12, fur prices climbed to $23.48 for red fox (68,214 taken), $23.87 for gray fox (19,380 taken), and $15.52 for coyote (15,924 taken), and license sales rebounded to 36,192.
Fur taker license sales also depend on the populations and value of other fur bearers such as beaver, mink, muskrat and skunks, so coyote and fox prices are not solely responsible for trapping activity.
A major reason that wild canids can weather heavy harvest pressure is the timing of their breeding season. Most foxes and coyotes mate in late January and February. With gestation periods ranging from 51 to 63 days, pups arrive in early April when food is abundant. Prey such as small mammals and birds are breeding and available. That means there's plenty of food for adults to capture and take back to the den. And when pups are ready to leave the den eight or nine weeks after birth, there are still lots of small mammals and birds for the pups to learn to hunt.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.