RICHMOND -- Archie Bailey, in bolo tie, western jacket, pearl-buttoned shirt and cowboy boots, rode into town the other day to ask the Virginia General Assembly for frontier style justice, in the form of a bounty on coyotes.

That's right, coyotes.

They're not all in the West, testified Bailey and other farmers whose animals have been killed by the quick-witted predators.

In the past several years, coyotes have been seen throughout Virginia, including a 25-pound female that was hit by a car last April on the George Washington Memorial Parkway north of Mount Vernon.

Two were trapped in Fauquier County five days apart in November.

Gerald T. Blank Jr., a trapper with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, set the traps after a farmer complained to Fauquier's game warden that 32 of his sheep had been killed by coyotes.

The plan to allow individual counties to impose bounties was approved 59 to 38 in the House Thursday over the doglike yelps of some delegates who didn't take the issue as seriously as Bailey and his fellow farmers. Bounty amounts would be set by each county -- cities and towns were excluded by an amendment.

Having passed the Senate, the bill needs only Gov. Gerald L. Baliles' signature to become law.

Northern Virginia lawmakers were divided on the issue. Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-Alexandria) voted with the majority, and said, "It's just a matter of helping my friends in Southwest. They vote for my condominium bills and I vote for their bounties."

There hasn't been a bounty on an animal in Virginia since one on groundhogs was lifted in 1977, said Bob Duncan, assistant director of game for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Fish and game experts usually do not support bounties because they believe they don't work, and often endanger other animals that could be caught in traps placed by zealous but inexperienced bounty hunters.

"Nothing is going to eradicate the coyote," Duncan said. A more effective way to control the animal, he said, is for hunters to kill them.

"There's no season on coyotes," Duncan said. "They can be taken {hunted} any time of year."

Besides hunters, some farmers have enlisted the aid of donkeys, which have been known to scare off coyotes. Some farmers also have used electric fences.

Officials aren't sure how many coyotes have migrated into Virginia in the past few decades, but Duncan said the number is in the hundreds.

Others say the number is in the thousands.

Until 1983, only eight coyotes had been reported killed in the state. In the next five years, the number rose to 53, and so far this year, at least six have been reported killed.

Most of the kills have been in the mountainous areas west of Washington, or in Bailey's area of far Southwest Virginia, although four have been reported on the Eastern Shore.

The number of kills is "just the tip of the iceberg," Duncan said. John Keeling, assistant director of public affairs for the Virginia Farm Bureau, said Tennessee officials have estimated there are 50,000 coyotes east of Knoxville in that state.

"And coyotes don't know anything about state lines," said Bailey, an outdoorsman who has raised sheep, beef cattle and burley tobacco near the Tennessee border most of his 60 years.

"I'll tell you about the danged coyote," said Bailey, who said he lost 18 ewes over one weekend. "They're one smart predator. They can cut a lamb out of a flock in front of your very eyes."

Sheep are the preferred targets of coyotes, and Virginia is second to Ohio in the number of sheep raised east of the Mississippi River. And with the average flock numbering about 35, "it doesn't take many coyote attacks to wipe out the profit," Bailey said.

Although coyotes prefer sheep, they'll eat nearly anything, including grass, watermelon, chickens and small household pets, which is why some have survived in such nonbucolic locations as those in the Los Angeles area.

Bailey said that officials in his home county, Washington, have assured him that they will adopt a bounty as soon as it is legal.

Meanwhile, Bailey is offering a personal bounty.

"I was getting ready to go to church recently when a guy pulled up in a pickup truck and showed me a coyote. I reached in my pocket and gave him a fifty {dollar bill} and told him there'd be one of those for every coyote he could round up."