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Rifle Magazine
March - April 2005
Volume 3, Number 2
Number 14
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Cover photo by Ron Spomer. Turkey photo by John R. Ford.
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A Little on the Wild Side

I was out at the lower end of the driveway last week, banging away on the split-rail fence. The air was cold, but when the sun finally found its way through the clouds at midmorning, I was a bit overdressed, and decided to change out of the sweat-soaked clothes.

Our bathroom has a full-length window on the north side of the house. While bent over the sink washing the salt off my face and neck, a movement outside, below our little garden, caught my eye. I turned to look. A full-grown bobcat was standing broadside just below the retaining wall, looking at me through the window with considerable curiosity. By any guess, the cat wasn’t 20 feet away from the window.

It was a remarkably beautiful animal – black, tan, white and shades of brown running through the hide and ear tips. My guess is it would weigh a bit more than your average dog – upwards of 50 pounds or more.

Remembering back over the 14 years we’ve lived in our home on the edge of what was once known as the Morgan Ranch, some 20-odd miles north of Prescott, Arizona, there have been a number of critters in the yard, mostly coyotes, javelina and bobcats, and one ner-do-well mountain lion that had a decided preference for dog food.

In the early years on the place, coyotes became real pests, no doubt because we had two house cats. One day my daughter Alicia – then in grade school – was standing on the back porch playing with her cat. A coyote came out of the brush at a full run, grabbed the cat and hauled it off toward the wash, with Alicia screaming in hot pursuit.

The coyote must have been totally confused by the event, as it dropped the cat and ran off. The cat was in pretty good shape, considering, and it survived in short order – by rubbing its dislocated shoulder over the brace on the bottom of the coffee table. In a few days, it was back to normal.

My son Jason, then about 13 years old, took umbrage to the attack on the cat and asked if we could call the coyote in and shoot it. Since the coyotes in our neck of the woods are somewhat accustomed to folks, and cars, I didn’t think it would respond to a call, but a leg of barbecued chicken might do the trick.

With that, I hauled out the barbecue, spread out the chicken parts and added a bit of sauce, to add to the tantalizing aroma just a bit. As the chicken started to brown, I gave Jason the Winchester Model 73 .44 WCF rifle and suggested he find a hideout on the bank of the dry wash below the house. I turned the chicken over and went to the back of the house where I had a commanding view of the brush and cactus from the back patio.

It wasn’t 15 minutes before the coyote came in at a trot, zigzagging through the brush on the south side of the house. I yelled to Jason that the coyote was coming straight for him. In another few seconds, the sound of the Winchester and the smack of the bullet echoed up from the wash. Scratch one cat-snatching coyote.

That winter another coyote starting hanging around the house so even though there was snow on the ground with the temperature hovering barely above zero, we barbequed another chicken. When the chicken was done, the coyote still had not come in, so I threw a couple of wings out into the brush below the house and went out back to sit on the patio and wait. Within a few minutes a rather scrawny looking coyote ran by the patio with a chicken wing in its mouth and caught a 180-grain cast bullet from a Winchester .38 WCF in the shoulder.

The coyotes stayed away after that, restricting their visits to serenades in the moonlight outside the bedroom window, where the cat kept a vigil on the wide windowsill.

A year or so after the cat-snatching incident, the coyotes came back, with a vengeance – three or four every night for several days. In short, they became a real pain in the neck, howling and yapping outside the house and ruining any semblance of a good night’s sleep.

One afternoon I was sitting on the back patio watching the quail on their daily migration around the house when I noticed a coyote moving through the brush to the south. He was headed for the other end of the house, so I jumped up, grabbed a Winchester and hid behind the east side of the house and watched. The darn critter walked right through the open dining room door!

I swung around and entered the sliding glass door to the back bedroom and trotted down the hall toward the living room, fully expecting to see the coyote at the dog’s dish, or milling around in the kitchen. Nothing.

As I glanced down the hall toward the garage door, I could see the tip of the coyote’s tail in the main entrance way. I wasn’t sure the front door was open, but I hoped it was. The last thing I wanted was a coyote running down the main hallway trying to get out the way he came in, through the kitchen door with me in his way. Shooting a coyote in the living room would make a terrible mess, not to mention a bullet hole in one or more pieces of furniture, or the floor.

As luck would have it, the front door was open and the coyote’s tail disappeared. I ran out through the kitchen door and caught the coyote with a 200-grain .44 WCF bullet in the chest as it trotted up the path toward the cattle guard at the top of the driveway.

That was the end of the coyote problems until a big mature male started hanging around. Our 11-year-old dog is deaf, and has been since birth, so it’s necessary to keep close tabs on her from time to time, especially when her particularly keen sense of smell put her ill at ease. Sometimes it’s javelina, sometimes a cat, but more often than not, a wandering coyote. The problem was, and is, with a deaf dog, you can’t call her off. Unless she looks back, for a hand signal, she’s gone.

I let the big male go twice when he kept his distance, circling around the place to the north. Then, one day, the dog cut loose, and I knew immediately we had a serious problem to contend with.

The Winchester Model 92 .38 WCF was leaning against the wall of the back bedroom when I heard the dog. I was on the other end of the house, some 100 feet away in my underwear and bare feet. The temperature outside was just a bit below freezing with a solid glaze of frost on the ground.

By the time I reached the rifle, the dog was charging across the back yard, across the dry wash and up across the open meadow to the north. The coyote stood his ground. In seconds, the dog was in the line of fire. It was too late to do anything but hope the coyote would rather flee than fight – a slim chance, but at least a chance.

I ran down the hill toward the wash, trying not to step on a big rock, or prickly pear cactus, with my bare feet, and hoping the sight of a near-naked human would give the coyote cause for concern. It didn’t.

The dog came to a halt, taking on the typically subordinate pose, ears back and tail between her legs, while the big male stood his ground. I moved around the cedars for a clear shot, and when the dog backed off a bit, the coyote started to trot off, then stopped and died in his tracks at a range of less than 40 yards.

Of course, not all coyotes or cats need to be shot. I watched them for several years on the place, and the adjacent public land that spreads out on what is left of the Morgan Ranch to the south and southwest.

My best guess is that I’ve spent several hundred hours walking across the brush-covered hills and meadows, or just jogging the 2.5 miles around the old ranch roads in an attempt to put off the effects of advancing age. A few years back, I fouled up my back and spent the better part of two years learning to walk again. Toward the end of the recovery period, I could hobble along pretty good, but it hurt, so I bought a mountain bike, thinking I could at least get some strength back in my legs.

In fairly short order, I could peddle around the ranch roads pretty good, and found coyotes and cats have a common curiosity – they don’t have a clue what a man on a bicycle is. The first time it happened, I was coasting down the county road, about to turn off on a ranch road when a middle-sized bobcat jumped out of the brush on the north side of the road and stopped, and just stared. I was making maybe 10 to 15 miles per hour down the middle of the road, and the cat didn’t have the faintest idea of what was happening.

In a few seconds, the cat bounced into the brush on the side of the road as I slowed and coasted by at less than 10 yards, the sound of the rubber tires on the pavement little more than a quiet hum.

A week or so later, I rode around a curve at the bottom of a long hill and saw a coyote coming out of the brush to my left. It swung in behind me, a few yards to my left, and trotted along beside the bicycle, following for the better part of a quarter-mile, up to a fork in the old cattle trail, where it swung off and headed north. I’d seen literally hundreds of coyotes over the years on the old ranch trails, but never, ever thought I would see one accompany me for a short trot alongside my bicycle!!

Sometime later, I was on the other side of the Morgan Ranch, peddling along a trail on the north side of a broad dry wash. A coyote came out of the scrub 100 yards or so to the south and trotted along on the edge of the wash, parallel to my path. I had come to understand that cats and coyotes didn’t know a human on a bicycle from a jackrabbit, so I stopped peddling, coasting to a stop at the lower end of the wash. The coyote stopped, stood there for a few seconds, some 40 yards away, then turned around and casually walked off. The darn critter didn’t even recognize a human with both legs on the ground, as long as the legs straddled a bicycle frame.

I ride, walk or run on the old ranch trails at least two days a week nowadays, sometimes more in the summer and three or four days a week during the months before hunting season. Now and then, I run onto a coyote, or two, or three. They don’t care much for me when I’m walking or running, but they hardly react to the bicycle. The bobcats don’t pay much attention either.

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