First stand of the trip. Rolling hills covered with thick sage. Sitting next to a fire break that has been about half reclaimed by the desert, but still offering a bit of an opening in the brush, about 40 yards wide that runs alongside this part of the seldom used two track we are traveling.
Had driven in the dark to get here, a long way from anything, hours from pavement, some of the least traveled public land dirt roads in the entire United States. About halfway between nowhere and nowhere else.
Just enough gray light to see and shoot, the shadows still deep blue. Overcast, breezy, temp about 30. Coyotes group yip howling in several directions while walking in and setting up with the rising sun at our backs and the breeze quartering in our faces.
This is starting off good…
I set the caller in a piece of stunted sage in the middle of the fire break and snuggled into the thicker brush 20 yards away with my shotgun. Tim posted himself a bit uphill on the other side of the break with his .243.
Started with a lone howl on the Foxpro. Waited for a minute. No answer. Went to jackrabbit. About thirty seconds of bunny blues and a group yip howl erupted from about 400 yards in front of us. I smiled with anticipation and let the jackrabbit keep playing for another minute. Then sat quiet for half a minute. Coyotes had got quiet. Usually a good sign. My confidence and anticipation were as high as it gets. I’m certain we’re about to have customers.
Went to pup distress. Less than a minute later, I see a pair cross to the far side of the fire break 400 yards out and start running towards us along the edge.
I let the caller keep playing. I wanted those coyotes to run right up to it, only 20 yards from my hidey hole. As they closed to 60 yards, they came out from the brush on the far edge to the middle of the narrow open strip and kept coming. At 40 yards the larger male still going straight at the caller, the smaller female peeling off and coming straight at me. I could hear their running footsteps and see their tongues working and the frost from their breath. Two coyotes within 30 yards now and closing fast. The anticipation and adrenaline flowing at maximum. This is what I dream of when I sit down with my shotgun.
At less than 10 yards from me, the female stopped. With a big piece of sage between us. She was looking at the male and the caller, still unaware of my presence. I could see her but didn’t like shooting through that thick piece of sage between us so I turned to my right and lined up on the big male who was just pulling up in front of the caller. He saw my movement and turned my way with a snarl and low growl, lips peeled back to show his teeth and giving me a “I’m gonna kick your butt” look. The Benelli roared and he crumpled. I swung back to my left to see the female retracing her steps looking back over her shoulder as she went and rolled her up going straight away at about 20 yards.
Then I remembered it was okay to breathe, lol!
Two down in two seconds. A bang-bang shotgun pair to start the day. Nice!
Tim says in the dim early light the flames coming out of my shotgun looked to be four feet long. Said from his view it looked like I hosed them down with fire. Said when the big male turned to face me snarling and growling and I unleashed the flames on him it was one of the coolest things he’s seen in awhile.
I haven’t been shotgunning coyote that long. This is only my third bang-bang pair like that. Addictive! Seeing the pair close in on me like that, got my heart racing and my adrenaline flowing. Too much fun! One of those every once in awhile is enough to keep me torn between my first love the rifle and my new affair with the shotgun.
An Annual Tradition
And so, began me and Tim’s annual birthday trip. We were born two days apart, in the same hospital. And have been running around together since we were teenagers. For many years now, we have made a trip every November to try and get as far from anything as we can get and see some new country.
Between Nowhere and Nothing
The morning continued to go great. Three more stands and three more singles and we had five coyotes in the box by about 10am. But, the wind had continued to build too. And by about 11am, it was howling with gusts well over 20 MPH. Calling got tough. We saw a few more coyotes on stand, but most of them were burning us well downwind and not offering anything. We only got one more coyote for the rest of the day.
But oh what a wonderful day!
I tell people all the time, coyote hunting is just an excuse to get out and explore the lonely places in the high desert. To see places nobody else ever sees. Just to wander around at will, as free as bird, no cell phone service, no locked gates, no trash, no buildings, no pavement, smelling the sage and gulping freedom with every breath.
For those who have not had the privilege of traveling this type of country, I think it must be hard to even imagine what it is like. To drive literally for days, go a couple hundred miles on dirt and not see another vehicle or even an electric light in the distance. To go for miles and miles and miles without even a speck of litter or trash. To follow ancient two track roads through the sage that haven’t had another vehicle on them for years.
Me and Tim just live for this stuff. Coyote hunting is just the best way we know of to go about it.
A Road Less Travelled
The two track we followed this entire day, really felt like nobody else had used the road in years. I mean, really – I think we were the first rig to roll that road in a long, long time. Nowhere did we see even so much as an empty beer can or hint of a tire track. Grass and sage growing tall in the faint parallel depressions. Needless to say, we saw no people. And, Tim’s truck got plenty of new desert Von Dutch, lol!
Here is what our road looked like for most of the day:
Getting towards dark we came to a small dry lake bed offering a flat open spot and made camp for the night. Good fortune was with us as the wind died down to almost nothing while pitching camp. Which made it much nicer for me while I cooked up a couple of rib eyes and fixings for dinner.
Dark comes early this time of year. Leaving plenty of time after dinner for sipping whiskey, smoking a cigar, talking about the days events and speculating on what tomorrow might bring. When I finally climbed in bed, just before drifting off, I heard a couple of coyotes yowlering not too far off. I went to sleep with a big smile on my face.
A Change In The Weather
Sometime in the middle of the night, I got up to take a leak and upon unzipping the tent door I was surprised to see several inches of new snow covering the world. Hadn’t seen that coming…
Some hours later, only half awake, rolling over, I was aware of hard rain falling on the tent…
Next morning, when I went to unzip the tent door, I couldn’t. Snow then a lot of rain then freezing temps had all worked to encase the zipper in solid ice. I couldn’t move it at all. With a little help from the tent heater I finally got out of the dang tent! And boy, let me tell you, after the forced delay of getting that frozen zipper undone, getting out of the tent and letting that morning leak out felt good! It’s the small things in life.
Conditions had changed since the night before! It looked like fresh snow cover. But with the rain that had fallen after the snow, it felt more like an inch of solid ice covering EVERYTHING. We had camp packed and were ready to roll before first light. Sitting in the truck with the heater running, sipping coffee and smoking a cigar, waiting for enough light to see with anticipation running high. It was cold and cloudy, but the wind was not too bad. Other than the ice creating a few hassles with getting some of the gear packed and coffee made (I’d left the stove top open and the burners were covered in ice), conditions were looking real, real good for the morning calling…
Another Day Calling Coyotes
Coyotes just do what coyotes feel like doing though! I’d have thought that after such a stormy night, they’d have been raring to go on this morning. But our first three stands yielded nothing. Couldn’t even get a coyote to howl.
Here is Tim walking back from an empty stand.
Conditions started to change rapidly. As soon as the sun started peeking through the clouds the temperature started raising quick and a warm wind began to blow and in an astonishingly short amount of time all the snow and ice was gone and the whole world had turned to mud. We hate mud. But it would be our constant companion for the rest of the trip so we made our peace with it and soldiered on.
And, no sooner had the world turned to mud, than the coyotes started to cooperate.
Fourth stand of the morning, slopping in mud walking in. Boots balled up twice their normal size and weight. Smell of fresh wet desert as sweet as honey. Sky littered with ragged clouds tinged with color by the long slanting rays of the late morning sun. The world as far as we could see a patchwork of gloomy cloud shadow and warm golden light.
Few minutes into the jackrabbit blues I see a coyote leaping over sage brush coming hard from nearly half a mile out. I can see by it’s deliberate stride and slow progress that it’s not enjoying the mud anymore than we are.
The coyote comes on a beeline straight for the call, never slowing down. Tim and I are both packing rifles this stand, Tim is closer to the caller and the path of the incoming coyote so I settle in to watch the show.
We’ve been sitting in gloomy cloud shadow. But as the coyote nears the caller, the sun finds a tear in the clouds above us and suddenly a narrow wedge shaped spot of golden light is cast on the scene. I’m still in shadow. But Tim and the coyote are in the thin golden spot light. The sudden change in lighting is surreal to me. The coyotes fur is now glowing with an unusual brilliance. Tim is glowing too. Even within the wedge of light, Tim and the coyote appear to be glowing extra bright, like the sun is shining stronger and brighter on only them and not the rest of the world around them.
As the coyote closes on the caller, Tim starts hitting his mouse squeaker which often pulls them up short for an easy shot. But this coyote simply makes a slight course correction and blows by the caller heading directly for Tim only 40 yards away now. The coyote is moving quickly, not actually running now, but taking very deliberate and purposeful giant bounding leaps, his body language exudes confidence and command of the situation. All chest and shoulders working with each bound.
The spot lighted scene unfolding before me is indescribably gorgeous from my vantage point. I decide to try and help stop the coyote so I let out as loud and ornery sounding a woof-bark-howl as I can. This gets the coyotes attention. He veers from the path he is on, taking two last giant bounding leaps away now but turning to look at the same time, stiff legged and hard shouldered, trying to make himself look big now, completing his turn on the last leap to squarely face the source of the sound. Coming to a stop in a full on bad dude pose. Facing me (and Tim) with chest and shoulders pushed forward, glowing incredibly brilliant in that spotlight of golden morning sun, there’s no doubt this is a male coyote. And just about the prettiest thing I have ever seen.
The scene at that moment, the two of them facing each other 25 yards apart in that narrow wedge of light, the coyote full of confidence, glowing so bright, while the rest of the world around them lay in dark shadow, it was one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve ever seen.
Tim was apparently appreciating the whole experience too, as he took much longer than necessary to aim and execute the coyote at 25 yards. It was almost like someone hit pause for a moment there, the two of them cast in the amazing light.
Tim and the coyote.
Calling Got Good!
Calling got good after that. Next stand, my turn, using the shotgun. Tim saw this one coming from a long ways out. But I was camped out down in the brush by the caller and didn’t see it until it came from behind me and blew past only 10 feet away. Tim said it was pretty good humor to see me jump out of my skin. I didn’t exactly do it elegantly, but I did get the coyote dead.
Next two stands, two more singles, me again but using my .17 Predator now.
This one, kind of a rodeo. Tim missed this one, then I put a bad hit on it just as it was finding another gear, then finished it off in spinning weasel ball mode. A big male.
And so the day went. Driving was kind of slow because of the mud. Walking was kind of slow because of the mud. Coyotes were even slow getting to the call because of the mud – we couldn’t help but notice they were arriving later than usual and some we saw coming from a long way out were definitely moving slower than normal. But I think we only had one blank stand the rest of the day and ended up with seven more coyotes in the box for the day before deciding to pitch camp a little bit early in an especially favorable looking spot.
Last Night Camp
Camp was pure joy that evening. It had been a truly great couple of days. We were feeling good about life. Hadn’t seen another person or vehicle for two full days. The wind was finally dying down, the sunset was incredibly beautiful. I cooked up a big mess of pork chops and fried potatoes and we washed it all down with plenty of good whiskey. Then got a small fire going and sat around re-telling old stories, reliving the days events, planning future adventures, talking about how much we love this stuff. We speculated on how few living people had ever laid eyes on some of the country we had passed through, how many years it had been since anyone had driven the road of the day before. We talked about how grateful we are, how incredibly fortunate we are, how much we appreciate that we have been able to spend the better part of our lives doing this. And just before bed, last but not least, we sat quiet, just listening to coyotes howling all around us.
Just A Couple Stands More
Next morning, as is our custom, camp was packed and we were ready to roll before first light. The plan for this day was simple. Head home. We both had stuff we were supposed to do at home and a long drive to get there so we needed to just pull up anchor and motor.
But… Conditions were the best they had been the whole trip! It was well below freezing and the mud, temporarily at least, was froze hard. Clear. Dead calm, no wind. While packing up camp coyotes had been group yip howling all around us.
If we stopped to make a stand or two on our way out, we were going to be late getting home and both of us were going to have pissed off wives. But sometimes, a man just has to do what a man has to do, lol!
So… We made a couple of stands.
First stand, I had muted the caller after about five minutes of jackrabbit. Spotted a coyote running in. We both had our rifles. So I just left the caller muted and let the coyote come.
As the big coyote got to about the 100 yard mark he slowed from a run to a jaunty trot, somewhere between a lope and a brisk stride. The sun was shining at our backs this morning and the coyote was glowing. As he left a stringer of brush and started into a grassy opening, it was so calm and quiet that when I heard my belly growling and the coyote suddenly stopped, one front foot still in the air, head turned to look right at me, I was sure he had heard it too.
It was the last thing he ever heard, as my finger pressed the trigger and I saw him crumple in the scope, as the fat whop of the bullet strike drifted back to me along with a brief acrid whiff of gunsmoke mixed with sage. I wanted to burn that moment, that experience, into my brain forever. To never forget, never lose this moment, the awe, the appreciation, the gratitude, the sense of well being, the awareness of everything around me.
Coyote hunting does that to a fella.
Another stand and I collected another nice large male. Should have been Tim’s, he spotted it, but I was lined up right between him and the coyote so I shot it.
Late But Worth It
And now we were going to be late. And the box was full to overflowing. And the mud was thawing and oozing again.
After processing and cleaning up we were going to be well and truly late, so what the heck, we made one more stand, lol! Picked up two more. Just put a bow on a great trip.
Not sure how much trouble Tim got in when he got home. But turns out, I wasn’t in any. Wife knows me too well. Said she never believed for a second I’d be home as early as I’d said I would. Was just glad to see me and happy that I had had such a great time. Said I could paint that room next weekend, no problem. And she had a meat loaf ready to go in the oven that would be done when I got out of the shower. Love that girl!
Life just doesn’t get much better than this.