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One snowy day last deer season my neighbor George Nykun, a lad of 18, was still-hunting in a brushy flat of our Pequest Valley in northwest New Jersey. Nosing intently along a frozen deer trail, toward him came a furtive, tawny-gray canine with sharp ears pricked high, bushy tail trailing low. George took it to be a truant farm dog tracking venison. He called, "Hey, boy, where you think you're goin'?"
The creature whirled, eyed George furtively for an instant, then took off at a swift, flat lope. Instinctively George realized that this was no domestic dog but a wild thing whose like he'd never seen. He quickly whipped up his gun and planted a load of buckshot in the fugitive's neck and head.
George let me take his kill, which weighed 43� pounds, to T. Donald Carter of the American Museum of Natural History for identification. As I had suspected, the verdict was: "Northern coyote with an admixture, perhaps one-eighth or one-quarter, of shepherd, collie or maybe chow." Doggish features revealed by dissection were a wide palate, heavy teeth and jaw structure. All other characteristics were typically coyotish.
Three days after George Nykun's encounter, 12-year-old Duane Muldoon Jr. of Butler, N.J. was taken out deer hunting by his grandfather. They went up on Bearfort Mountain, a long timbered ridge about 40 miles northeast of the Pequest Valley and a like distance from Times Square. Grandpa put Duane Jr. on watch near a swampy hollow. The boy had a single-barreled 12-gauge shotgun which he had never fired before. It was his first big-game hunt.
"I saw this animal coming my way," Duane relates, "and I thought it was a big gray fox. He turned sideways—that's what gave me a good shot—and I knocked him down dead.
"We let him lie there all day but carried him home with us. We took him to Mr. Babcock [Samuel D. Babcock, municipal clerk] for the bounty, but he couldn't give me the $3. He said it wasn't a fox. He didn't know what it was.
"We got Garry Westervelt, the game warden, to come up from Paterson. He took it down there, and several men guessed it was a coyote."
State biologists confirmed the guess: pure northern coyote, a gray-phase male in prime coat, weight about 30 pounds.
Most Jerseyites were surprised if not alarmed to hear of coyotes in their backyards instead of just in their TV horse operas, but I wasn't. From 1946 until three years ago I lived near Cooperstown, N.Y., not far below the Adirondacks. In that time, coyotes and coy-dog hybrids so increased throughout New York's northern counties that the state instituted a trapping and study program to control them. Some of us hunted them hard with hounds in the dead of winter.
Instead of diminishing, the creatures have multiplied and extended their range. Every county in Vermont has now reported coyotes. So have New Hampshire, western Massachusetts, northwest Connecticut. They have been killed in and below the Catskills and in northern Pennsylvania. Now, following the Appalachian chain, they have evidently added the wilds of north Jersey to their habitat.