We love the sound of the coyotes down in the arroyo. Their yip yips, their long howls. It’s such a call of the desert, such a reminder of the remoteness and wildness of where we live. When I hear this chorus, I first check to make sure our cat is inside. Then I relax into the beautiful song of the coyotes. Perhaps howling at the moon, perhaps communicating with one another. It’s a strangely peaceful sound.
This changed a bit last week when I called my friend Beck to see if she’d like to take a quad ride. She said she couldn’t, that she and Rick were preoccupied with a danger around their house.
No, actually that’s not correct. A coyote, singular. A coyote, quite large. A coyote had been circling their house for the past couple of days. Way too close. They could not safely let their cat out, and their dog had to be on a leash now on their walks. It had begun a few days earlier, when the weather was foggy and chilly. Beck had just filled her birdfeeders. As she returned to her house, she noticed a large doglike animal sniffing around, about 30 feet away. She went inside and she and Rick watched from the window. At first they were not completely sure it was not a dog, it was so tall. But it clearly was a coyote, alone. They didn’t think too much about it, and the weather was keeping them indoors anyway.
The next morning was sunny, and Beck and Rick were sitting outside with their cat Sophie and their dog Slammer. Both animals were on the alert, behaving in an uncharacteristic way. Sophie usually likes to roam, but this day she was sticking close by Beck, and mostly just wanted to go indoors. Slammer was doing her best to leave her own scent all around by peeing on the patio and by scraping her paws on the ground (dogs have scent glands in their paws and scrape as a way to mark territory.) Clearly the coyote was close by.
This was not feeling comfortable. Beck consulted her computer to gather some information about the coyote’s behavior and to try to find out why the coyote was coming around so close and so often. Being squeamish, Beck had to maneuver her way through the internet to avoid the gruesome “killing coyotes for fun” sites, to get to sites that described habits, habitat, food sources and of course, dangers. She learned that in January, male coyotes often run solo, looking for a mate. This made her concerned that this very male, very big coyote might mistake Slammer, who is female, for a mate. The next day showed more signs of the coyote’s close presence. His circling of their house became easier to detect. Although Beck and Rick had taken down all their birdfeeders, the cedar posts that held the feeders were getting scratched up, the bark peeling off. There were piles of fresh scat, again way too close to the house. Sophie would no longer go outside. Later that day, Beck and Rick saw the coyote pacing at the bottom of their driveway, down by the garage, looking up the hill at them. Their house is perched on a promontory, so they had a clear view of the coyote’s prowling behavior down below. His staring up at them felt creepy.
Before sunrise on the following day, Beck took her regular walk with Slammer down the driveway, Slammer on her leash. Now, looking back, Beck sees that this was a dangerous thing to do. But at the time, she reasoned that she had her gun with her, just in case, and was simply curious to see what the coyote was doing and to assess the boundaries of the coyote’s fear of her and Slammer. There was the coyote. Dog and coyote stood and stared at one another, not 20 feet apart. The coyote did not approach, and Beck walked backwards up the hill, Slammer beside her, watching the coyote watching them. Creepier still.
The coyote’s presence began to feel terribly menacing. By the evening of the fourth day, it was clear that the coyote was there to stay. He was lying around in the brush and grasses down by the garage and then at times he would come up the driveway to the house. There he would pace and pant as he anxiously watched them. They felt he was stalking them.
Living out here on Terlingua Ranch, as remotely as we all do, Beck and Rick have always been respectful of wildlife, believing that the animals have more right to be on the desert than we do, that we humans are the intruders. A noble value to hold, but irrelevant when you believe a coyote may be stalking your pets. This was going to have to end.
The only solution seemed to be to shoot him. Their research convinced them that shooting a coyote is tricky, as it’s difficult to get close enough for a clean shot. Though they have guns, Beck and Rick are not hunters—the guns are to defend against threats to their pets. They decided that Rick, being the better shot, would be the shooter.
So now they needed to find a way for Rick to get close to the coyote and yet be safe himself. From inside their car made sense. Rick would prop his gun on the window and shoot from the car.
For two days they left the car parked down below by the garage where the coyote was spending a good deal of time. Each day they put fresh dog food around the car. They also scattered Rick’s dirty sweatshirt and sweat pants near the car so the coyote would be familiar with that scent once Rick was inside the car. Indeed, over those two days, the coyote did grow more comfortable, coming near the car. For reasons unknown, the coyote’s internal clock would bring him closest to the car about 4 pm each day. So the plan was for Rick to sit in the car in the middle of the afternoon and wait with his .22.
On the “kill day,” there sat Rick in the car. Dog food, enhanced by some of Sophie’s fragrant tuna treats, was spread out around the car. They had fashioned a curtain over the half-opened car window so the coyote would not see Rick. However, probably sensing Rick in the car, the coyote began running full-gait around the car, not stopping to eat the food. Then suddenly he ran away from the car, but unable to resist the food, began a new approach, creeping back through the bushes and brush.
Rick shot the coyote. It jumped and yelped and ran across the road into the nearby canyon. They could not tell if the coyote had actually been shot, and they certainly did not want him to suffer. So Beck tracked him and found a pile of vomit, mostly blood, with dog food and the cat treats in it. This was reassuring and later, a hunter friend told them that this indicated it had been a lung shot, and that the coyote could not have survived that. Beck spent hours searching for the coyote’s body, but never found it. She thought she should look up lung shots on her computer to find out how quickly the coyote would have died, but she could not bear to search through pictures of wounded animals.
And so. . . no celebration. Relief, yes. No more threatening, prowling, stalking coyote. Slammer and Sophie were safe once again.
But these days, the chorus of the coyotes in the arroyo just doesn’t sound the same anymore.