TUNKHANNOCK (AP) - Jake Ellex said he has seen more coyotes than ever this year.
Last Sunday, Ellex backed up the claim when he turned in three of the wild canines just before the final weigh-in concluded for the Northeast Regional Coyote Hunt. The three-day event, which was sponsored by District 9 of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, was held at the Triton Hose Co. and attracted 759 hunters who converged on a seven-county area in the northeast, each hoping to harvest the heaviest coyote.
Hunters paid a $25 registration fee, and a $100 prize was awarded for each coyote taken. A $250 prize was handed out for the heaviest coyote taken each day, and a $2,000 grand prize was awarded last Sunday for the heaviest animal overall.
The top award went to Art Gatley, who hunted with dogs to take a 51-pound male in Wayne County.
Thirty-five were taken overall, down from last year's harvest of 53 - the second highest total in the hunt's 14-year history (56 coyotes in 2010).
While Ellex didn't collect the big payday, he did produce quite a bounty, using an electronic call to bag all three of his coyotes early last Sunday morning in Pike County.
"Coyotes are out of control in my area," the Hawley resident said. "This is the best luck I ever had calling but I did a lot of scouting to find out where they are."
District 9 President Bill Kalinauskis said one reason for the lower harvest this year was the dry, cold conditions throughout much of the hunt area. That made it difficult for dogs to pick up the scent, he said.
Ivan Baker, of Nicholson, encountered so many coyotes while hunting in Gibson, Susquehanna County, that it actually made the hunt difficult.
"We get the dogs on a track, and then that coyotes crosses paths of other coyotes and it screws the dogs up," said Baker, who did manage to shoot a coyote last Sunday morning. "We have too many coyotes."
To be eligible for the hunt, coyotes had to be harvested over a three-day period (Jan. 31 through Feb. 2) in Bradford, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming, Lackawanna, Pike, Luzerne or Sullivan counties.
District 9 uses the hunt as its only fundraiser of the year, and the proceeds are used to fund a variety of conservation education programs and a trapper training school that the organization holds each summer.
"Years ago, we thought about doing a banquet, but we decided on a coyote hunt and never looked back," Kalinauskis said.
State Sen. Lisa Baker and state Rep. Karen Boback also stopped by at the hose company. Baker said she wanted to talk to hunters to get their opinion on proposed legislation to enact a $25 bounty on coyotes.
Most of the hunters that she spoke to weren't in favor of it, Baker said.
Ed Grasavage has participated in the hunt for over 10 years and won it once. This weekend he hunted with a group of 10 using dogs and they took a coyote in Lackawanna County.
But even if his group didn't bag a coyote, Grasavage said he would still sign up for the hunt every year.
"This event is the Super Bowl of coyote hunts in the area," Grasavage said. "For a lot of hunters, it is a tradition. I wouldn't miss it."