It was not God’s Trickster that I expected to see through my rifle scope that morning. I was out for meat in the freezer, prime, organic meat that the entire family looks forward to.
After waking at the insane hour of 5 a.m. and heading out just as daylight struggled to take hold on a dreary, overcast morning, I took my place against a bull pine tree, settling in behind a ground blind, constructed four weeks before opening day.
Sitting statue-still, while the head slowly moves, right to left, left to right, the eyes are trained to pause at every conceivable opening in the swamp ahead. This is the way we kill our deer, not by the stalk but by a slow, steady, patient waiting. Looking, always looking, for a big, brown body.
There are some deer hunters who view this tactic with dismay. They believe, or so they claim, that ambushing a deer is not hunting. I must disagree, having spent many a day, 40 yards from a good deer run and pure buck sign thrown in, and never saw a single deer.
It comes down, in my humble opinion, to choice. If you move through prime deer woods, it is likely you will jump one or more deer. It is also likely that all you will see is a big, white tail waving bye-bye as you decide, in a heartbeat, is that a buck or a doe?
But back to my morning. Perhaps 90 minutes into the hunt, I pick up movement. Brown movement, but somehow something is not right. In the next moment I know, at once, I have a great predator in front of me, maybe 30 yards away.
This could never happen if the wind was not favorable. The eastern coyote has its nose as its first defense and can pick up the carcass of a dead animal from a mile away, or so I have heard.
The coyote paused over a tiny pond, covered with ice and snow. He, or she, hesitated, waiting as if it sensed something was not quite right. I, too, waited, hoping the critter would stop behind some obstruction so I could shoulder my rifle and fix it in my scope.
Of course, I have no intention of killing this spectacular creature. I simply wanted to get a good, up-close look because the opportunity to see a coyote at this close distance, undisturbed, has been a once-in-every-four-or-five-year opportunity.
Then, and this is classic coyote behavior, the creature slowly turned and headed back the way it came. Did it sense my presence? I will never know as I watched it walk back into the cover of the swamp.
Fear, the old man told me years ago, is what drives men to do the things that are deplorable. People, he said, fear what they do not understand.
Fear, like a father with a stiff belt, and ignorance, the mother who looked on with a vague countenance — those two miserable parents, he told me, is what can drive people to kill that which they do not understand.
This is not to say every person who kills a coyote had a brute for a dad and a mute for a mom; my main point here is how pointless this behavior really is.
So, the killing continues and, for most of us, it is really OK. No sweat off my brow, right? And if the Fish & Wildlife people say an open-season on coyotes is justified, or so goes the argument, then who am I to challenge the folks who have done the biology on all of this? Right?
Once the boogie man is out of the bag, you cannot put him back in. And the past tells us the truth of this: We will continue to kill as many coyotes as possible because that is what we always did.
Unlike the wolf, which humans exterminated in almost all of the U.S., the eastern coyote is of a different breed: He has the hunting skills of the wolf, combined with the surviving skills of the western coyote. My guess is the Trickster will be here for as long as man, maybe even longer.
While I have never shot a coyote and have had, over the years, at least three chances to do so, that is not the prevailing conviction of the majority of deer hunters.
It is their widely-held belief that coyotes kill many deer that has brought about the wholesale — let us call it what it is — slaughter of a great predator in our midst. We should celebrate what the coyote is, not punish the creature for the fact it kills what it kills to survive and to feed its young. But most of the time, when I speak to a hunter, the argument prevails: Kill all them coyotes.
Do coyotes kill deer? You bet they do. But the true myth is how many deer are taken by coyotes. The tales of coyotes killing deer are often so ridiculous as to be bizarre. Meanwhile, talk to your local game warden and ask him about the problems posed by Fido. My guess is that far more deer fall to domestic dogs, that friendly little pup of yours, than they do to coyotes.
And here is a personal observation. After more than 50 years of deer hunting, I have never witnessed a coyote even chasing a deer. What I have witnessed, on some seven or eight occasions, when deer and turkey hunting, is a dog or dogs running deer, up close, right on their tails.
One other thing: Perhaps 20 years ago, I was back in deep woods during the December muzzleloader hunt when I heard a crashing behind me. Moments later, a mature doe came running at full speed. Not 40 yards behind came a beagle, that howl running along with him. I pulled up, aimed the rifle some 10 yards in front of the dog — I had no intention of killing the critter — and fired, maybe 30 yards away. I looked on, astounded, as that beagle never broke stride and continued the chase.
I think God’s Trickster — a few Native American tribes believed the coyote possessed special powers and dubbed him so — deserves better than what the law allows. Every time I see one, I marvel at what is before me — the variations in their color, the stealth, their ability to survive all that is thrown at them, the fact that a vibrant predator walks among us, is something we should all cherish.
Contact Dennis Jensen at d.jensen62@yahoocom