To most city dwellers, coyotes are charming cliff-top silhouettes from Western paintings and cowboy movies, howling to serenade folks around a desert campfire. But technically, they’re predators and “nuisance animals,” and their numbers and aggressiveness are increasing around the U.S., including Alabama. Just last month, a man in Shelby County’s swank Inverness housing community watched as a coyote ambled across his golf course with a housecat in its mouth. An expert later estimated that some 50 more of the coyotes lived in woods nearby. The animals are only one reason that Kilgore — a resident of Nauvoo — created his company Big Larry’s Predator Control. He’s a police officer by day but has a lifelong interest in hunting and the outdoors, which has also gravitated to trapping, tanning and taxidermy, and he says that addressing predators was a natural next step.
”I realized there was a market for trapping,” he says, “because if you follow the world news, it’s clear that coyote attacks are growing. I think there were more than 300 ‘mentioned’ attacks in the U.S., in a two-year span. And that’s just the documented ones. Plus, up North you’ve got some trappers, but in the South and West there aren’t that many, these days. “Coyotes and bobcats and raccoons and possums aren’t controlled the way they used to be, and with their numbers growing, they’re having to go outside their usual habitats to find food because of the competition. Like in Inverness, they’re even coming out in the public.”
Here in the South, coyotes’ main targets are livestock and pets, Kilgore says, “but it’s nothing for one to bring down a kid, if it gets hungry enough. There are three documented deaths, and a lot more instances of bites.” Cities are especially at risk, according to Kilgore, because “There’s a big difference between city folks and country folks.” He laughs. “Out here, if we have a problem, we tend to get our gun and go take care of it.” (Not coincidentally, in Alabama’s it’s legal to hunt coyotes year-around.)
But coyotes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problem-causing animals. “I help out the Fish and Wildlife Service when I can,” he says, “and some of their biggest problems are possums and raccoons. The reason they’re problems is that they’re destroying the turkey population. Coon hunting is not nearly as big as it used to be, so the coon population is growing. You’ve got to figure coon and possum will eat the turkey eggs and baby turkeys, and coyotes will get the fawns, quail, almost any kind of birds—basically, they’re a threat to all the preferred wildlife you’re going to hunt.”
One of Kilgore’s favorite parts of his work is teaching workshops and organizing “predator hunts,” for people who want to get up close and personal with the critters they’ve heard so much about: “We go out in the woods and I call up coyotes, bobcats and so on. You’ve got aggressive coyotes and you’ve got skittish coyotes, depending on the particular land group. The bigger the numbers, the more aggressive they are. If the population’s below a certain number, you’re probably not going to see them.”
How does one learn to call a predator?
“Trial and error,” Kilgore says, with a totally straight face. As it turns out, he’s not imitating the call of the predator, but of its prey — smaller animals, especially those that sound weakened, caught, or otherwise in distress. Baby rabbits are a perpetual menu topper for any number of wild animals. “You can buy the electronic callers, with recordings,” says Kilgore, “but I’d rather do it by mouth. I guess rabbit’s my favorite. “
The term “nuisance animals” on the Big Larry’s Predator Control website covers a lot of ground. “Basically, it’s any animal that’s causing you problems,” Kilgore says. “If a beaver keeps damming up your pond, that’s a nuisance. If coons or possums get in your chicken house or get in your garbage, that’s a nuisance.” And while the vast majority of his work is outdoors, he occasionally gets calls requesting help with home-invading animals. “About a month ago, I helped a lady with some raccoons that had taken over. The structure of the house was kind of run down, with holes that the coons could get in. Her father was on his deathbed, and these coons weren’t in the attic or loft, but down in the living quarters.
“It was the only time I’ve set traps indoors. Ended up catching four raccoons. I’d say that was the weirdest job I’ve ever had.”
The “big” in the Big Larry’s logo is not an exaggeration. With his build, he looks as if he’d feel equally at home in camo and a football uniform. But there’s one species he draws the line at dealing with:
“I don’t do snakes. I’ve gotten a few calls about ‘em, but I don’t handle those personally. A buddy of mine is all about snakes, and he does those. I don’t have any problem with a live bobcat or coyote, but I could never stand snakes.”
On the plus side, snakes don’t carry rabies — which is a common threat from the predators Kilgore deals with. “If you get bitten by one of these animals, by all means go and get your shots,” he advises. “The thing about rabies is that it’s preventable but not curable. Once you get it, you’re dead.
“So I keep my shots up to date, because it’s not unusual for me to get bitten. The injections are not nearly as painful as they used to be. The first time you go, you get one shot in each shoulder, one in each hip, and one in the thigh. Then you go back four times, for one shot each. And the shots can’t possibly GIVE you rabies, so it’s no huge deal.”
For Kilgore, it’s also a case of have-predator-knowledge, will-travel. Besides trade shows around the country, he takes on private projects such as one next year involving wolves in Canada. And there’s a predator-control TV show in the works, though he can’t comment on the details until more of the pieces are in place.
Commerce and income aside, Kilgore is a non-profit promoter of conservation and hunting in his home state. “I’d like to see Alabama become a preferred place to come and hunt,” he says. “If we can get things managed so that we have 140”- and 150”-class deer walking around everywhere, the state can raise the prices on licenses for out-of-state hunters who come for the quality of our deer, or turkey, or whatever. Then, the state can put that money into conservation to improve the quality of our animals and benefit us all.”
Dale Short’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org