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When the coyote is at the door, answer with a .30-30

Column by Hal Walter

Wildlife – April 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Just the other morning, I woke up to snarling, growling and barking that sounded like dogs rough-housing outside my bedroom window. I was immediately grouchy and wondered who was visiting me before the sun had even cleared the ridge — and why they had brought unruly curs. I tend to arise later than most ranchers because I stay up some nights practicing the dark witchcraft of journalism.

I lifted the bedroom shades and saw nothing. So I pulled on some clothes and headed downstairs to see who had rocked me out of bed. Already my own dogs were barking and running circles in the living room. They wanted outside to play with the visitors.

What I saw when I opened the door was coyotes scattering and running in all directions. My property is fenced on three sides with what is known as field fence. The fourth side is merely loosely-strung barbed wire. I counted seven or eight of the little faux wolves. A couple of my burros stared alertly at the running varmints. The coyotes obviously had entered the property through the barbed wire and now were frantically trying to find their way back out by running the fence-lines.

Bad dogs.

I keep an ancient jackass here by the name of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. He is the first burro that I ever owned and every morning I fully expect to find him dead. And every morning I find that he actually is — for all intents and purposes — dead, yet still standing on all four hooves and ready to eat more grain than all my other critters combined. Also there’s a month-old coal-black paso fino colt in my corral. Rather mystically, he was born to a white mare on the coldest night of the year. I fully expected to find him dead that morning after he was born, too.

They’re both coyote bait.

I like coyotes and generally wish them no harm, even though the first summer I lived here they nearly killed my beloved mountain spaniel on Independence Day, not only ruining the holiday but also costing me emergency rates at the vet. We have given up on keeping cats around here, having lost four of them to predation.

So I knew right away that the snarling that awakened me was not playful. These critters don’t waste their energy fooling around on summer holidays, much less on a cold morning like this one. They were after either the youngster or the oldster. If it was Jumpin’ Jack they wanted, I guess that would be honorable. But the colt is a rather valuable animal of high-blooded parentage and other ownership. Knowing my luck, if the coyotes had succeeded, I’d be finding coyote droppings with black hair in them all over the countryside for some time, while continuing to feed the old burro into eternity.

Last year one of my neighbors had his guns ripped off. Right after that I assembled all of my weaponry, and other valuables, and wrote down the serial numbers. Then, to further thwart thieves, I dispersed my firearms in odd hiding places all over the casa, something which doesn’t make them at all handy when an eight-pack of coyotes practically knocks at your door.

Where did I put the lever-action Marlin, anyway? And where are those .30-30 shells? There is nothing more worthless than a hidden, unloaded rifle. Usually a few rounds in the general direction will keep coyotes away for a while. You don’t even have to actually nail one of them. The thhhh-whack of a large chunk of lead into the frozen ground at their feet, followed by the slower-traveling boom of big-bore weaponry, often will scare the bad dogs away for a good, long while. Coyote survival in this country is largely determined by them keeping careful mental notes about who’s armed and who’s not.

But you have to know where your doggone rifle is hiding in order to bring about this effect. Otherwise the coyotes figure you’re a quiche-eating California-transplanted tree-hugger who keeps a can of pepper spray and a wind-dancer ornament around for personal protection. They’ll make a mental note to come back for your chocolate lab (their favorite flavor) or any stray children.

I could see through the glass that the colt and Jumpin’ Jack were safe, so I put a pot of water on to boil, still occasionally catching a glimpse of high-speed grayish-brown fur running along the pasture fences. I was groggily trying to recall where I had stashed the Marlin, and that was just as well because if I shoot before getting the caffeine jitters I might actually hit what I’m aiming at. It’s the same reason I almost never write anything while sober — I end up striking all the wrong keys. Anyway, while the watched pot took its sweet, merry time to boil, I walked outdoors to give out some hay and split some kindling wood.

The mountain spaniel and her slavedog were running around in a tizzy, sniffing here and marking territory there. As the hay hit the snow-powdered ground, the proverbial mournful wail lifted from the ponderosa stand to the east. It was answered a ways to the south, and then they both were answered by another call from the southwest. These sons and daughters of bitches hadn’t even bothered to clear out. I went back inside and found the Marlin even before the boiling water had transmogrified to coffee the consistency of Badger Creek after a spring thunderstorm.

So what’s the point of this entertaining but rather inane slice of Central Colorado life? I guess it’s somewhat comforting to know that wild animals are still out there and interested in messing with people and their livestock. Despite the colonization of Central Colorado by big-city refugees… Despite the proliferation of subdivisions, convenience stores, brew pubs, coffee houses, boutiques, video-rental shops and the sad, depressing fact that residents of this area now keep at least as many people behind bars as we do cows behind barbed wire… Despite the invasion of our region by crystal-worshipers, faux cowboys in blue-suede boots, white witches, Boulderites, avowed alien abductees, self-proclaimed exiled wizards of Middle Eastern countries and middle-aged women dressed like vampires… Despite the reality that I now need to lock my doors and write down serial numbers off all my stuff, this is still the West. And there’s yet a little wildness left in this country to keep us on our toes and remembering where we stashed our guns.

Free-lance writer and burro-rancher Hal Walter has never slain a predator that wasn’t an insect.