Woman and Dog vs. Wild

It is a late March morning.  The days are finally getting light early enough for me to take the dog on a real walk again.  As I head out to feed horses, I see that we received a dusting of snow overnight and the sky is low and grey, promising more snow to come.  It is barely light enough to see without a flashlight but if I walk out the door now, I will have just enough time to feed horses and walk “around the block” before I have to leave for work.  It’s not snowing as I head out of the house, but as we arrive at the horse compound, I can hear the tinny “tic, tic, tic,” of flakes just beginning to hurl themselves against the galvanized horse shelters.  Just a few flakes…

But the flakes are getting heavier and falling more thickly as I finish feeding and Kaylee and I head out for our walk.  “Around the block” in our world includes most of our front parcel and the neighbor’s parcel below us—a little over a mile.  First we head north down the ridge above the horse corrals.  As I walk down the ridge, I have to bow my head and hold a hand up to protect my eyes because I’m not wearing a hat.  The snowflakes begin falling fast and furious, driven by a wind from the northwest, and whenever I remove my protective hand, I invariably take a snowflake to the eyeball—not a barrel of laughs at six in the morning.

Next, I turn left at the north property line and head west on the neighbor’s road.  Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of Kaylee in her morning rambles—right before the snowflake hits my eyeball.  I whistle at the turn to let her know I’ve changed course although she’s probably perfectly aware of my location at all times.  Heading west isn’t nearly as bad and I can search for the dog a little more carefully on this heading.  I finally spot her about 100 yards ahead of me crossing the road at a lope.  She’s not chasing anything, just looking for good smells, reading the stories of all of the denizens who travel our little patch of earth.  I scan the sagebrush for coyotes, but don’t spot any.  We have come out of the trees now and are at the high point of this leg.  I like this route because for most of the walk I can see far enough around me to spot the coyotes well in advance.

The grey curtain of snow this morning had cut visibility down to just a few hundred feet.   It is really coming down heavily now and beginning to accumulate on the ground.  I can feel it hitting the back of my head—guess I get to do my hair again when I get back to the house!  Our nearest downhill neighbor’s house is about three eighths of a mile away as the crow flies, but this morning, I can’t even tell there is a house there.  As I turn left at the end of this leg to head south along the property line I try to keep Kaylee close enough that I can see her.  She is mostly a black spot running along the hillside, but it is amazing how many hidden folds and large clumps of sagebrush there are capable of completely concealing one medium sized dog.

Finally, we make the last left turn to head east up our driveway.  This is the uphill leg leading back to the house.  I never made it up this stretch at a run even when I was running marathons.  Now I labor and puff my way up the road.  Kaylee always gets pretty far ahead of me, and today, she disappears into the trees in the wash.  As I reach the gate, which marks the beginning of our property, I see her standing on the road ahead of me staring off to the north.  I follow her gaze and see the grey shadow of a coyote perched on the far bank of the wash.  As I unlimber my rifle to take aim at her, she spins suddenly and vanishes into the concealing snow.  I pop off a shot anyway, reload, and head for her last known position to take up the chase.  But after wallowing my way across the wash and up the bluff, I never catch sight of her again so Kaylee and I head directly back to the house.

Oh, don’t be too shocked and concerned.  My rifle?  It’s an air rifle, a pellet gun more correctly—but to every 11 year old Ralphie out there, it’s a BB gun.  It’s not even a really nice BB gun, purchased for maybe $20 at most.  The best I can ever do is put someone’s eye out.  My intention in chasing the coyote down is not to injure or harm her, but to train her to stay off my property and leave my dog alone.  And amazingly, it seems to be working.

All this pretty much started right after we got the dog.  At first, I thought it was mere coincidence.  We would go for a walk and accidently run into a couple of coyotes.  After we “accidentally” ran into the coyotes a number of times, I finally realized that it was no coincidence.  They were thinking “Oh look!  Snacky dog!”  And they were waiting for us.

There are four of them in the pack I think.  The two I see most often I named Frick and Frack.  Frick and Frack are not afraid of people and once they’ve spotted their prey, will follow doggedly (pun intended) wherever we go.  They are probably the same coyotes that got my cats.  Then there are the invisibles.  I first saw Mr. Invisible on a day when the coyotes did not see me down cleaning the horse corrals.  All three were trotting east along David’s trail probably sniffing Kaylee’s tasty dog scent and scheming to “invite” her over for lunch.  Later, I saw Mr. Invisible from the house a few times trailing along with Frick and Frack as they tracked the scent trail we left on our walk.  And now I’m pretty sure there is a Mrs. Invisible, but that comes later in the story.

One day while I was riding the horse, we ran into them.  I saw them and Kaylee running through the trees above me on the bluff of the wash and pretty much freaked out.  I called Kaylee down to me and spent the rest of the ride keeping her close.  They followed us for about a mile, then met us on the way back down and followed us almost all the way home—very annoying.  I tried to get Max (the horse) to chase them, but Max wasn’t too enthused about it, while Kaylee thought chasing them sounded like a marvelous idea so I had to give that up.  A couple of days after that, they were waiting for us on our walk and followed so closely that I could throw rocks at them and almost hit them.   Anybody whose ever seen me throw rocks will know that’s gotta be pretty close!

That was the day I had had enough.  I e-mailed David at work and asked him to pick up some bird shot for the 22.  I figured that I could try to shoot close enough to scare them and if I accidentally got too close, birdshot would mostly sting, but not do any real damage.  David informed me that he would be bringing home a wrist rocket instead.  Huh?  Having never been an eleven-year-old boy, I had no idea that a wrist rocket is your basic slingshot.  I was picturing those little crossbow things the bad guys were using in The Road Warrior only somehow firing little RPG’s.  It kind of seemed like overkill to me, but finally David straightened me out.  I suspect he was just nostalgic for the days of childhood when he and his friends would go around shooting rocks at each other and anything else that seemed worthy of targeting.  He also brought home a box of pellets for the pellet gun.

I went on the Internet and googled “how do you get rid of coyotes?”  The ideas were pretty much in line with what I was thinking.  Most pages suggest using noise and shooting at the coyotes with paint ball guns or other non-lethal projectiles.  One interesting fact I found was that if you kill the coyotes, the alpha female will just begin producing new litters of pup to replace the ones you killed.  Because of this, it’s apparently almost impossible to wipe out the local coyote population. Personally, I just don’t see the point of killing them.   If it were possible to train them to leave me alone, I would rather do that.  If I started killing them, I would just have to deal with the next untrained generation.

So I spent a couple of days shooting driveway gravel at fence posts, clumps of sagebrush, trees, cargo containers and pretty much anything else that would stand still long enough. I got to where I could hit a target if it was large enough and not moving.  Now all I need are large, immobile coyotes!  And I saw no coyotes—naturally…  A few days later, though, I ran into a pair on the ridge as we began our walk and it was game on.  I don’t think I actually hit either of them, but I came close a few times.  One of them took off pretty quickly, but the other circled around as if to follow us on our walk so I went after it.  I pursued them very aggressively because the web pages had said that it wasn’t enough to just make them run away—you have to pursue them until they leave your territory.  So I kept shooting rocks and chasing even after they began to run away. Kaylee joined me in the chase and I finally realized that when she chases coyotes, it’s not to go off and meet them, but to chase them out of her territory also, so we were a team.

Pretty soon, I saw two coyotes disappearing over the lip of the wash almost 200 yards away at a dead run.  Kaylee rejoined me quite proud of herself and we headed back towards the house—I figured that was enough excitement for one morning.  We were working our way through the trees that fill the wash through our property when we encountered the invisibles.  So Kaylee and I had another fun chase until the invisibles high tailed it out of our territory.  At first, I thought that Frick and Frack had circled back around, but as I thought about it I realized there simply hadn’t been time for them to run all the way back up into the trees.  That’s when I decided there must be a Mrs. Invisible in the pack.

After that, I started carrying the pellet gun on every walk.  It is kind of heavy and annoying.  I felt a little silly walking around like Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines (only he had better hair and a much bigger gun).  But I have discovered I’m much more accurate with the pellet gun at a longer distance than I am with the slingshot.  I can even hit the occasional T-post on purpose now.  After our big encounter, however, I didn’t see any coyotes for weeks.  They obviously got the message loud and clear.  In fact, my encounter in the snow was the first coyote sighting since I chased them off and I would say that the alacrity with which she scooted out of there only proves that this really was an accidental encounter.

Since then, we’ve chased off the occasional coyote.   We still make sure they “leave the territory” every time.   I’ve stopped living every 11 year old boy’s dream and walking around looking like Ramar of the Jungle, but I continued to carry the slingshot for a couple of months.   The other day, Kaylee was outside.  I looked out to check on her and spotted her trotting around collecting good scents out in the sagebrush when I spotted a coyote down below her on the hill.  She looked up and saw it about the same time.  I watched, wondering what would happen.  Kaylee began to trot in the general direction of the coyote until it spotted her (they were still about 200 feet apart).  Suddenly, the coyote dropped its head and ears, put its tail between its legs and slunk quickly away into the trees.  Kaylee stopped, satisfied that she had done her job.



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