The winter of 2010-11 has become the “winter of the coyote” for me. Starting in October until recently I have seen more coyotes in the wild than any other time of my life all added together. I know the numbers in upper Midwest are up as the mange sickness that has been affecting the populations has tapered off. I know there is an abundance of food for the coyote to eat as the game bird numbers have increased throughout the state with CRP land, hunting reserves and other conservation programs. But knowing all this doesn’t stop me from being amazed every time I see one. You see, I heard a lot of coyotes growing up in Western South Dakota, but I never saw one until I was in college. A live one anyway… It is sheep and ranch country where I grew up and I heard a lot about ranchers killing coyotes especially around lambing time. I even saw a few dead ones during the winter season when trapping and fur trade was still a viable way to make a quick buck. Actually seeing one alive, however, was hard to do. At least for me… and I spent a lot of time outdoors - fencing, farming, prairie dogging and exploring.
The land west of our home turns to rough river breaks about a mile or so out and my family referred to the area as “out west.” Picture a vast, majestic space of untamed South Dakota, add a vision of a gathering thunderstorm, big antlered mule deer, then add the lonely calls of the coyote at dusk. Now you have an idea of the imagery that the phrase “out west” brings to my mind. So even though coyotes were pretty much a hated animal where I’m from, they still interested me greatly. Maybe it was Wile E. Coyote from Looney Tunes or maybe it was the fact that I heard so much about them but never really saw one that caused this. I really don’t know. Regardless, I still think the coyote is a fine and interesting animal even if they are a disliked pest to many in this state.
OK, let’s get to the story of a recent coyote encounter. The scene is set in Badlands National Park, on a bitter cold morning in late February with a recent heavy snowfall.
Bleary eyed, I leave my hotel from Kadoka in the dark. Half an hour later I’m a little more awake but disappointed in the flat, gray morning. This isn’t good for majestic scenic photo taking.
Oh well, maybe I will see some wildlife, I think as I put on my telephoto lens near the abandoned gates of the park. It looks like a snowplow has been recently through as there is one lane plowed on the park road. I drive on. The first thing I see are a couple of deer off to my left. They are burying their head in the snow, scrounging for grass and breakfast. When they look up at me, their faces are comically framed in snow. Too far away for a decent photo though, so I move on.What appears to be a golden eagle is circling high above Cedar Pass. Again too far away for a photo… I enjoy the graceful sight though. I make my way through the Bigfoot Pass area and spot a lone coyote to my right. He is moving parallel to me in the deep snow, he sees me but doesn’t appear to be too concerned. There has been no traffic in the park that I’ve seen up to this point, so I stop behind a small hill to conceal myself behind a bit of cover. I get out quietly and hunch over with my camera at the ready to get a better shot of the coyote.
Dang it! I think to myself as the coyote spots my head pop up from behind the little hill. He takes off in a hurry as I snap a few more photos. It doesn’t take long and he’s lost from sight. I hop back into my vehicle and proceed to drive on. I’m happy to see him and get a couple reasonable shots. The morning is looking better and better.
Thirty seconds later, something happens that I still can’t hardly believe.
The road here is slightly up and down with multiple twists and turns. My heart skips a beat as suddenly a gray-brown shape appears not 30 yards in front of me on the road. It is the coyote and he’s running down the road like his tail is on fire. Like an excited school girl hearing the name Justin Bieber, I giggle out loud. It is then that I realize that he’s not getting off the road! He continues to run on ahead of me. After 15 seconds I audibly say, “No way.” and continue to drive. This coyote seems to want to race me! My mind is a state of unsure and competing thoughts… My inner dialogue went something like this:
- Holy crap, should I be chasing him?
- You shouldn’t be chasing him, you might get fined for harassing the wildlife.
- Harassing wildlife?!? What law is that? I should speed up to see how fast he’ll go.
- Are you crazy, do you WANT a fine? (my foot presses down on the accelerator)
- Shut up, there is no one out here but you. If I had a gun, I wonder if I could hit him.
- What is the matter with you?
- I know plenty of ranchers that would love for me to run him over.
- You couldn’t catch him and if you tried you would end up in the ditch or dead yourself.
- True, I wouldn’t want to kill him anyway, but I do have a camera…
- Hello?!?! You are driving here. Both hands on the wheel, please! (my hand reaches for the camera)
- No one is going to believe this, I need to get proof.
- What would your mom say? What kind of example would this be to your nephews?- I’d be the cool uncle who races coyotes, duh! (snap goes the camera)
- How fast am I going anyway?
- I don’t know because your stupid camera is in my face. I can’t see the speedometer!
- He’s looking back at me like Usain Boldt winning the 100 meters at the Olympics… he’s enjoying this!
- Here comes a curve!
- Whoa, I better slow down… just a couple more pics though (click, click goes the camera)
- You idiot, you now have proof that you were chasing a coyote in the Badlands.
- Whatever… He ran out in front of me. It’s like this is his morning exercise, I’m just giving him a little fun. It’s all good.
- This better not make your photo blog.
- I gotta post this to show off for my work buddies! (click, click)
- Dang, he’s off the road now.- Amazing, he just ran a half-mile in –9 temperatures and is not even breathing hard. He stopped and is gloating at me. (click, click)
- Yeah, that was very cool… Did that just happen?!? Good thing I had my camera.
- Yeah, good thing!So there you have it. Mr. Coyote shattered the human half mile world record time with ease and let me follow him while doing it. Amazing! I hope I didn’t break any laws or offend any ranchers or coyote lovers with this story… I just want you all to remember that he was enjoying the morning run just as much as I was. All’s well that ends well, right? And Mr. Wile E. Coyote, he’s still cool… even though I might be a little loony tunes!