Wildlife experts aren’t sure what to make of the animal that an anonymous hunter in Missouri harvested on October 30. The man, who asked not to be identified, was hunting deer at the Franklin Island Conservation Area in Howard County when what he thought was a large coyote entered into his range. The man had a permit to hunt coyote, which was in season, so he took his shot at what he thought could be a record-setting coyote.
The kill was reported to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Conservation Agent Michael Abdon. He took possession of the animal and turned it over to MDC’s Resource Science Division for species identification. MDC officials were doubtful that this was a coyote because the size of the animal resembles that of a wolf. MDC News Services Coordinator Joe Jerek said coyotes are typically half the size of the animal the hunter took.
“According to MDC Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer, the animal was male and weighed 81 pounds. It did not have ear tags, tattoos, other identification or physical signs that would show it was a captive animal. Beringer collected tissue samples and the animal’s DNA will be used to confirm the species and possible origin of the animal,” states an MDC press release. That largest coyote on record weighed 74 pounds.
The department has its doubts that this is a wolf because wolf sightings in Missouri “are very, very rare,” Jerek wrote in an email.
The press release explains why wolves are such a rare sight in Missouri: “Also known as timber wolves, gray wolves once inhabited northern Missouri but were gone from the state by the late 1800s due to hunting and habitat loss. While there is no evidence of a breeding population in the state, wolves are listed as a protected species in Missouri. Beringer added that MDC has never stocked wolves and has no plans to restore them to Missouri.”
There are suspicions that the animal might be a wolf/coyote hybrid, which is not unheard of. Feces DNA confirms the breeding of some coyotes with wolves in the Great Lakes region. Those coyote-wolves have been documented as moving south from New England along the Appalachian Mountains, but they have also been discovered in mid-Atlantic states.
There is also the possibility that the “wolf” taken on October 30 was simply moving south in search of new territory. Two wolves were killed by landowners in 2002 and 2010 in Grundy County and Carroll County, respectively. Should the animal be identified as a coyote, it will be returned to the hunter. If it is a wolf, MDC will retain possession and no consequences will meet the hunter who honestly thought he was shooting at a coyote for which he had permits.
Images courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation