Sometime around 4:30 in the morning, a pack of coyotes started howling and barking. This isn’t anything new around here, they’re always about. The sounds of coyotes are fairly commonplace when you live in the mountains. Last night though, they were close. As close as I’ve ever heard a pack. When they woke me, they were probably in the back yard, and by the time I got near a window to peek out, they’d moved on, but not by much.
No matter how used to them I may be, their yapping and barking isn’t nearly as hair-raising as when the pack suddenly runs silent. From what I understand, when one of them comes across prey while hunting, the baying and barking signals the rest of the pack. Old timers have told me that when they go silent, it usually means they caught what they were looking for, and that silence comes on like someone flipping a switch. The sudden calm after a night-shattering ruckus is really unnerving.
They’re usually harmless to people though, I don’t know anyone who has had any sort of run-in with them. We’ve all SEEN them at one point or another, but they’ve not caused anyone any grief- beyond the farmers that is.
The worst experience I ever had was while deer hunting. I like to get to my spot before sunup, so I’m usually moving through the woods in the pitch dark. On this particular morning, there was some moonlight, so I’d managed to get most of the way into the woods without having to turn on my light to see where I was going. I came to a stand of pine trees though, so tall and so thick that no moonlight has touched the forest floor in ages. Even the sun, powerful though it is- has trouble piercing the thick boughs.
I stopped and fished out my light. It failed to turn on when I hit the switch, so I applied a bit of percussive maintenance…I slapped it with the palm of my hand.
The sound of my beating the hell out of my flashlight was louder than I had thought, and a second after I started trying to ‘fix’ my light, the barking started.
A single coyote was yapping through the trees, and he was close. Very close. I know that sounds are tricky to gauge in the trees, but he was inside of five hundred feet from me. As I listened to him, his brother started barking back at him. From behind me. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up.
I was alone in the woods, between two coyotes in the dark. I was armed with a scoped rifle- useless in the blackness, and a hunting knife. Essentially, if these two had decided to get vicious, I was breakfast. Then, as suddenly as they started, they stopped.
I hunted a different area that day.
Several weeks later I happened across a fellow hunter in that area, who was from New Jersey. I related my tale to him, and he told me I had been lucky, that there was a big brown coyote that was aggressive and had chased one of his friends during bow season. I suspect that story was a bit exaggerated, since I’d never heard of that sort of thing happening before, and the out of town hunters are the type of people who, if they don’t shoot anything, will concoct epic hunting tales of how they had seen the antlered king of the forest, but were so blinded by its majesty that they couldn’t bring themselves to shoot it, but if he’s there next season, they are sure gonna take him.
…we all exaggerate, but they’re terrible at it.
Coyotes are strange creatures. Equal parts hunters and scavengers, even if they’ve never caused me any personal trouble, they can still make the blood run cold when they’re splitting the night with their calls, and then again with their silence.