The Wild Life #4
I would like to establish a couple of things today, right away. First, this is an Outdoorsman’s Blog. It is about fishing, and hunting, and survival in the wild, and it is about animals, and sometimes humans—getting killed. If this last part bothers you, then you shouldn’t be here, reading this. I am a hunter, and therefore, I sometimes do kill, even though the reality is I do way more hunting, than I ever do killing. The irony being, that on this very same hunting trip we are about to revisit, I was almost killed myself—by my own heart! My heart had apparently been stalking me for years, looking for the perfect opportunity, the perfect “hide” to lie in wait, and strike with fatal effect, and if it had taken that opportunity on this trip when I was camped out by myself, with no cell phone service, no one knowing exactly where I was, and more than 40 miles from the nearest hospital, it could have killed me, easily. But as it turned out, it attacked me exactly one week later, in my garage, at home, and I lived. Barely. The second thing I would like to establish, is that I DO NOT hate coyotes. I love, admire, and respect these ultra-sleek and smart killers of the woodlands, and high desert country. It’s just that I also love deer. And I happen to love them, more than I do the coyotes. Because the coyotes are killing my deer, both blacktail, and mule deer—and specifically the fawns—in droves. Gone are the days when the coyote was thought of as only a field mice harvesting machine, subsisting mainly on rodents, bugs, rabbits, and the occasional plastic Glad garbage bag dragged from the local town landfill. They will snatch a wobbly legged fawn, or calf, from beneath it’s mother’s teat, or, acting in a pack, they will rip the fetus from the belly of a doe deer as it is being delivered into the world. They would also love to kill your house cat, or small dog, too, and unfortunately, they seem to be evolving, as of late, into potential small human children killers. So don’t ever make me choose between my coyotes, and my deer, because it is going to be my deer, every time.
We live in prime cougar country here in Jackson County, OR, with the highest density of the big cats of anywhere in the United States, and your typical cougar will kill one deer a week within its large territorial range, 52 weeks of the year. Add to this, the shocking statistic that recent Fish & Wildlife studies have shown that coyotes can be responsible for up to as much as 30% of fawn predation every spring, and it’s clear to see, to we deer hunters, anyhow, that we have a problem. A predator problem. Certainly, the cougar situation has become devastating to our deer herds, especially over the last decade after the idiot liberal do-gooders managed to get cougar, and bear hunting with hounds outlawed. The cougar and black bear populations have now exploded, because previously, hound hunting was the most effective, and productive way to control these large predators during hunting seasons. But the “sleeper cell” of the predator world, the coyote, went largely unnoticed. That is, until the contents of quite a few hunter killed coyote stomachs, taken during spring, and summer, started showing up with the remains of fawns in them. Lots of fawns. So, no, I don’t hate coyotes, but I do love to hunt them, and I try and thin their ranks by 2, or 3, or 4, every winter, and spring, so I can give my beloved mule deer and blacktail deer something of a fighting chance to survive.
And, coyotes are not easy to hunt. I should know; I have been hunting them since I was 16 years old and you don’t even want to know how many years it took me to actually call one in and kill it! Far too many years. But along the way, I have learned a lot, and not just about coyotes, but also about myself. Fooling these master predators requires you to become a master predator yourself. You don’t hunt them on the land, you become a part of the land they are hunting on. You are the wind, the light, the shadows, and the voice of reason that will ultimately speak to him, convincing him to come to you. And when a coyote comes in, it is thrilling beyond belief, and it is also chilling! He is coming to kill, and he plans on killing you (who he thinks is another predator) even if you are another coyote, and he will finish killing the prey locked in your jaws if it isn’t dead yet. This beautiful big male coyote, still wearing his winter coat, weighed around 40 pounds, and was taken in the Klamath Falls, OR area on March 7, 2015 by me after two days of hunting, making a total of eight separate calling “stands.” On my last stand of the day before heading back home to Rogue River, I spent two hours driving the high country desert roads, looking for coyote sign, and the perfect place to set an ambush. I finally found that perfect spot beneath a small Juniper tree on the lip of a rim rock overlooking a large sagebrush flat. I put my little Savage 17 HMR rifle on the shooting sticks, donned my Ghillie suit, and leaned back against the Juniper. I raised holy hell with the Circe Long Range Rabbit Distress call, for sixty seconds, then paused for a couple of minutes, and then began howling with the howler call. A grey ghost suddenly materialized out of the sagebrush, loping uphill toward me. He abruptly stopped at 75 yards, scanning his horizon, probably sensing that something wasn’t quite right—but it was too late. I already had the crosshairs centered on his chest, was already pressing on the two-pound AccuTrigger. There was a sizzling “pop” as the tiny .17 caliber bullet, the size of a sharpened pencil tip, sliced through the air, and the coyote’s legs unfolded beneath him as he died on his feet, instantly. A perfect day of hunting. A perfect, humane shot, and a perfect outcome. I saved a mule deer fawn, and who knows, I might even cross paths with that same deer some day! A big, five-point bruiser who I have bracketed with the forty yard pin of my bow sight. But then again, maybe not. I was the hunter on this day, but as I said earlier, just a week later, I was the hunted—stalked, and nearly killed by my own heart. My OWN heart, dammit! But, it’s all good. It’s life, right? One day we are the hunter, the next, the hunted. The coyote cannot restrain himself from killing the fawn, any more than I can constrain myself from killing the coyote. We are both really just chasing our tails in this life. Round, and round, and round it goes, and where it stops? Nobody knows. We are both doing as much as we are capable of—the hunter, and the hunted—until the game finally ends.