Over many years of hunting along the Bitterroot River in Western Montana, my hunting partner and I have witnessed countless fascinating wildlife encounters. Waterfowl in abundance, herds of deer, prickly porcupines, meandering bears, and wild turkey have revealed themselves to us, marched across our paths, and always managed to touch something deep within us. But of all the encounters, a recent one with a coyote gave us a story that we're likely to speak of as long as we hunt. Here’s that story…
As I snuck into the woods that Autumn evening, the darkness seemed to amplify each snapped twig my thick river muckers stepped on. It was opening day, September 3rd, 2011 and I was slowly creeping through the head high grass and foolishly stepping on every dry, crunchy inch of the path on my way to my favorite hunting spot. Despite the cacophony I perceived, I must not have been too terribly loud because only minutes after I halted my approach, a beautiful coyote trotted right up to a tree only 15 yards away. His fur was a dappled gray color that blended better than the best store bought camouflage and he walked so silently that if I hadn’t seen him in motion, I doubt I would have ever noticed him. A distinctive white tipped bushy tail floated along behind him. He surveyed the scene for a few minutes without deigning to notice me, then darted across a field towards my hunting partner’s favorite spot. At this point, I suppose most hunters would have taken a shot to rid the world of one more classified predator, but I reminded myself that I was there to hunt deer, and deer only. Of course if I’d known then what I know now, if I’d known all the mischief and trouble that coyote was going to cause me, perhaps I would have taken that shot
After he left me, my new coyote friend ran towards my hunting partner and very obnoxiously began barking, yipping and yakking like crazy for the next thirty minutes. It turns out he had spotted my partner and cleverly thought to let the rest of the forest know of our whereabouts. After almost an hour of this treatment we gave up for the day. With such an escort, we weren’t truly surprised that we didn’t see much deer activity and could only hope this was the last of our run ins with this coyote for the season.
Alas, this was not to be. Two weekends later, we were back hunting in the same area. This time, I was in a tree stand when I caught some movement a few hundred yards away. Through the branches of my tree, I caught glimpses of two coyotes who were pestering a few does, spooking them out of the area. Sure enough, one of them had a distinctive white tipped bushy tail. For a moment, it seemed as if they were herding them towards me, but I wasn’t so lucky. Silently I mouthed a curse on coyote kind and hoped they wouldn’t get wind of me like last time and ruin another good hunting day. Eventually though they moved off and I continued waiting.
After that, I didn’t see any action for the next hour until I got a text from my partner. It read, “Shot a doe. Am having a hard time recovering her though.” I lowered my bow, climbed out of the tree, and started tromping through the alleys of tall grass in his direction.
I found him kneeling next to the blood trail 100 yards away from his stand holding the arrow that worked its way out. Although it wasn’t a pass through, he believed he had made a good shot and we turned our thoughts to tracking and recovering the wounded doe. Having already found sign of heavy bleeding, he pointed me in the right direction and we fanned out and started scanning for the next clue. The sun had just set, and I picked up my pace hoping to find his prize before we would be forced to use our flashlights. Ahead of me, I saw a very small kidney shaped pond and got excited as I spied a fallen deer near the far end of the bank. At first glance, I decided it wasn’t my partners. I could see several exposed ribs and naievely assumed it was a deer that had been decomposing for several days. I was so sure that it wasn’t his deer that I didn’t even mention it to my partner when he called me over to see a big pool of blood where the doe had bedded again. We were getting close and I was thinking about venison steaks when we realized the trail led right back to the pond and the fallen, partial deer I had just left.
Together, we silently looked at the half-eaten deer. Magpies were pecking away and cawed as we startled them off their dinner. A closer looked revealed this was indeed a fresh kill with nearly all the hindquarters chewed off and the ribs picked clean on one side. A sad realization slowly dawned on me.
“Those damned coyotes!” I muttered. From the moment my partner’s arrow pierced this deer’s lungs to the moment we discovered her by the pond, no more than 30 minutes had passed. Well, I guess 30 minutes is just enough time to consume most of a deer if you’re a hungry coyote and you brought your friends to dinner. It was truly a sad moment, but in the end we had to leave what was left of the deer for the coyotes to finish that night. Darkness descended and we headed home declaring more curses on the coyotes.
Afterwards, my partner lawfully filled his doe tag and called the game warden to explain the scenario. Weeks have passed and I’ve spent countless hours in the tree stand thinking about this encounter and what I would have done differently. Could we have tracked the doe faster? Would I now shoot that coyote if the chance presented itself to me? Truthfully, I’m not sure. When it comes right down to it, he’s just a hunter trying to feed himself and his family, which I can respect. Even when wildlife encounters go poorly for you, as in this case, they still contribute to the thrill of the hunt we all love and yearn for. I haven’t seen that bushy tailed coyote since that day, but I still find myself imagining he’s out there watching me, laughing his little coyote laugh, just waiting for one of us to shoot another deer. Well, as long as I keep hunting, we’ll see who gets the last laugh.