What began as a proposed bill that would ban outright the hunting of coyotes with hounds in Vermont, has instead become proposed legislation that would simply limit the number of hound hunters to 100 and require Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Department (VFWD) to establish regulations on the winter time activity. In recent years, conflicts between hound hunters, landowners and people and their pets have increased in Vermont, which lead to state legislators introducing S.281 in February 2022. The bill is currently under review by both the house and senate and is expected to be voted on soon.
The original bill had received broad public support, after numerous incidents came to light involving animal cruelty and trespass on the part of Vermont’s coyote hound hunters across the state. Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Department saw the direction legislators were taking, and quickly proposed changes that would still allow coyote hunting with hounds, only require a permit and establish rules. Because of the fear of a total ban on coyote hunting with hounds, VFWD has now promised to address this crisis for wildlife and people in Vermont but their reccomendations do not go far enough to prevent trespass or cruelty occurring out of sight of the dog’s handler or owner.
The amended version of S.281 would still require landowners to post their lands and inform hound hunters that they are not welcomed. Those allowed would be required to have written permission. Un posted or “unenclosed” private lands would not require written permission. The bill would also leave it up to Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Board to determine a definition of “control” a hunter must have over their hounds. Most hound trespassing occurs when dog(s) pursue a coyote, bear or bobcat where hounds are allowed onto or through lands where they are not. GPS collars used on coyote and bear hunting hounds allow remote monitoring from miles away, but not control. Most of the fighting that occurs between hounds and coyotes happens out of sight of the dog handlers who are often sitting in their trucks during coyote hunts with handheld GPS monitoring devices that tell them when their hounds have a coyote cornered or “at bay”.
S.281 still has to make it through the full Senate, House and Governor’s office before it reaches the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board for a rule making process where definitions of control and method of take will be determined. Board members are appointed by the Governor to six-year terms and the board has recently been criticized for being controlled by and composed of hunters, trappers and those unwilling to listen to the majority of Vermonters opposed to coyote hunting with hounds. (Another bill, S.129 that would have addressed this misrepresentation of the citizens of Vermont has evolved into a letter to the Commissioner of Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Department.)
The spirit and original intent of S.281 has been changed by VFWD’s amendments which would still allow free roaming coyote hounds to cross onto posted and unposted lands where they are not welcomed. The amendments allow such trespass to occur, only establishing penalties for it and making it the responsibility of landowners to notify coyote hound hunters that they are not welcome. Maintaining control over hunting hounds must remain the foundation of S.281. Loose hounds are not a constitutional right!
As currently proposed, S.281 would also still permit up to 100 coyote hound hunters using free roaming dogs during winter. Each permitted license holder would still be allowed to be assisted by other hound hunters working in tandem from vehicles and snowmobiles. This means that the allowance of 100 permits would in fact still authorize hundreds more hunters to assist the individual permitted coyote hunter. There is no data on the number of coyote hound hunters in Vermont, but 100 is simply an unmanageable number given the current limits on the ability of VFWD law enforcement to monitor this activity in the entire state of Vermont with only 31 wardens. On March 13, 2022 a Addison County landowner that has frequently dealt with coyote hunters trespassing with their hounds, called his region’s VFWD warden to request assistance when the group again returned. The warden responded that he was unavailable and over an hour away.
Current Senate bill 281 with VFWD amendments…
While this bill is certainly a good first step in preventing coyote hunters with hounds from trespassing on private property, it still does not adequately address the cruelty caused when even one hunting hound is allowed to chase to exhaustion another dog, making the animal more susceptible to attack and mauling, as has been documented occurring within the state of Vermont in recent years. There’s still time! Vermont residents can still contact their representatives and ask that changes to S.281 be made before it is signed into law.
Proposed changes to S.281 for Vermont residents to ask their representatives to request:
A reduction in the number of permits allowed from 100 to 31, which better reflects the actual number of VTF&W conservation officers (wardens) available to patrol coyote hunting with hounds in the state of Vermont.
A definition of “control” that does not exclusively require GPS/shock/tone collars which still allow hounds to be far away and out of the sight of their handlers.
A person shall not release a dog onto land, whether the land is posted or not posted, for the purpose of pursuing coyote with the aid of dogs unless the dog owner or the handler of the hunting dog has obtained a courtesy permission card from the landowner or landowner’s agent allowing the pursuit of coyote with the aid of dogs on the lands.
A limit on the number of dogs that may be used to pursue coyote that shall not exceed two dogs and a prohibition on the substitution of any new dog for another dog during pursuit of a coyote.
The legal method of taking coyote pursued with the aid of dogs limited to rifle, muzzleloader, crossbow, or bow and arrow and penalties for any instance in which a dog mauls or otherwise injures a coyote.
Required identification on every dog that is readable from a distance of at least 50 feet and that will allow a landowner to identify the owner or handler of the dog.
Required reporting of every coyote killed during pursuit with the aid of dogs.
A prohibition on the use of bait.
Vermont’s House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife will be reviewing S.281 March 30, 2022. Please email members:
To find your VT state Senator: