It’s cold. A light snow is falling and the rising sun is barely making a dent in the in the gloom. Our visibility is limited but we can just see the remote controlled coyote stress bait. We have triangulated three distress calls in an area of the mountain in which three ridgelines run together and multiple prey paths cross leading down in elevation to water. It’s a perfect place for a coyote trap.
I can just see my brother, current animal control officer and S.W.A.T team leader, in a three point position in the evergreens just to my right with his favorite rifle, a Remington .270. My wife is carrying her favorite 30.30 and is bedded down to my left in a prone firing position. My Dad, former Army Marksman and advanced warfare expert in Vietnam has vanished into the forest but we can hear a distressed turkey at a distance, so we know he is close by with one of his many single-reed calls.
The east coast coyote is a different animal than its west coast counterpart. They are larger, some argue smarter and are rapidly evolving to fit a niche that has been emptied by the eastern extinction of the grey wolf. Some wildlife biologists are even arguing that they are showing traces of DNA that share origins with both the grey wolf and the largely extinct red wolf, which now only lives in very secluded areas of Florida. Regardless of their origin or intention, they have been targeted as pests and deemed dangerous to livestock and pets in this area of deep Appalachian Virginia.
God’s country. The icy fog lifts a bit, revealing the higher ridges. As we had climbed through the dark in the early morning hours, I had no idea we were this high. I’m astonished by the natural beauty of the area and begin to relax. Even though the temperature is hovering at about 20 degrees, we’re all relatively warm in our high-tech hunting gear. Then, we see them. Descending in single file in absolute silence out of the snow and fog. Bigger than I expected. My brother exhales slowly and squeezes the trigger. The second coyote in line seems to spin in the air and drops immediately. My wife’s rifle roars to my left as I hear a third gunshot from roughly where the distressed turkey had seemed to be. Three coyotes are on the ground and the rest have seemingly vanished into thin air.
The true story is something like this: I awoke at four on my nephews fifth birthday with the smell of my Mom’s sausage gravy lodged in my imagination. I toss and turn until 5:30, give up and get in the shower, careful to make lots of noise in order to wake Laura up. She gets up mumbly and sleepy-eyed and grouchily gets in the shower. I rush her out the door with her shotgun and camera equipment and we take off for my parents, who live about two hours from us near the Virginia/Tennessee border. We’ve been planning this coyote hunt for nearly a month, but honestly, I’m more excited over breakfast. I get a speeding ticket for eighty in a seventy and I forgot my wallet, which adds insult to injury. Even worse, the cop kept us by the side of the road for nearly a half hour, during which I was certain breakfast was getting cold.
Soon after the ticket, Laura begins to laugh. She says, “I just realized why you are in a hurry!! You don’t care about hunting; you just want gravy and biscuits!” I guess she knows me well.
We arrive at my parents a little late and there are no gravy and biscuits. That was a little saddening, I do admit, but there was a breakfast casserole, sourdough ham biscuits, a fruit salad, blueberry muffins and homemade granola bars along with fresh sweet tea and coffee. I really can’t complain. I stuff my face and drown myself in sweet tea.
We drive up the mountain near my parents in four-wheel drive to a place that really is similar to the one described in my big lie earlier. We don’t see anything. Not even a bird. We hiked and talked and laughed and climbed and hunted and had a great time, but we most definitely did not see a coyote.
After a few hours we realized that this was a lost cause and returned to my parents’ house. To discover that my mother had prepared her world famous chicken and dumplings, homemade chili, various dips and a vegetable dish. I was in heaven. All my favorites at once! Laura and I ate until we were decidedly uncomfortable and played with our nephews and niece and had a complete blast. We voted on who could make the best hot dog and my Dad won handily. Take a look at this thing!
We had planned to drop by a local restaurant called Harvest Table for a restaurant review but Mom had fed us until we were bursting and then loaded us with enough leftovers for a family of six. In the best interest for our health, we skipped the restaurant.
Hunting is most often about the company and not the prey. Beware, coyotes; we may be back. But rest assured, we may be too full to care.