As the rabbit distress call blared on for the third or fourth consecutive moment, two pairs of ears crested the distant hill some 320 yards away. For 30 more yards they crept closer, as if a charge on the call was inevitable, but just at that point they turned two wary heads and headed back for the other side of the farthest ridge I could see. Hunters themselves, they have an intuitional sense of being hunted. They probably know the wide array of electronic predator calls by brand.
I found the dogs in my 4-16×42 Nikon scope, made a mental adjustment about the wind, and waited for just one hesitating pause before they crested the hill. The trailing dog turned and, in a moment, the thunder of that 75-grain V-MAX bullet in .243 crashed upon the prairie. One pull of the trigger turned that predator, some 300 yards away, into prey, king of the scavengers into food for scavengers.
A trio of us spent four days chasing down what would be a trio of ‘yotes, one for the each of us. A lot of work for three dogs, unless of course you’ve ever experienced the thrill and difficulty of public land hunting. In that way, to come away with three dogs instead of a giant skunk is the workingman’s version of a championship finish to a grind-it-out kind of season. Sometimes victory ain’t pretty, but as they say, a win is a win no matter how ugly the stat sheet reads.
a hunter at heart
I have a deep respect for the coyote because he, like me, is a hunter at heart. The coyote is also a caricature, however, for he embodies one trait to the extreme—pure ruthlessness. He never hesitates when a doe is trailed by fawns nor restrains himself from clenching a newborn calf in his jaws before it’s hit the ground. Yet still he knows how to strike the deathblow to survive, how to stalk his prey with skill and grace, how to rejoice in his being without restraint.
I admire the coyote because he lives free and true to his purpose. He’s a survivor and he knows his place in the world; he’s not ashamed of who he is, nor is he cowering under the demands of fame or money. His only compulsion is instinct derived from his nature.
I was also reminded on this DIY public land hunting trip that there’s freedom in smallness. And you are small on the endless prairie. The only thing that constrains you on a journey like that is your own ambition—you’re only there because you want to be. No advertisers or bosses to please, no restraint on your creative energy. Just you, your camera, a couple of well-chosen friends, howling song dogs and the open plains. And the reminder that life is short and you’ll return, not long from now, to the dirt from whence you came. It’s a sobering dance that, when you tune into it, awakens the soul.
A meaningful life
When it’s my time, I’d like to go out like that coyote: doing what I loved, what I was made to do, fully embracing my own unique role on this giant spinning globe. More than that, I’d like to say I chose to be a lasting and meaningful influence on a few lives rather than chasing the empty fame of thousands of nameless, faceless masses. I’d like to say I intentionally chose what was small and nothing in the world and told its story with breathtakingly glorious art that inspired others. I’d like to say I went hard after excellence in my craft and devoted myself to what meant the most to me, not what I thought would make me rich or famous. I’d like to say my work was nourishing and brought health, not only to me but to those whom I served by it. I’d like to say that I gave rather than merely exploited and took.
It seems to me that the moments of true joy come in the awareness of the beauty found in a thousand everyday occurrences. The way a coyote comes into a call, the companionship and laughter of friends, a shared journey, a cold bottle of water after a long trek, or the sound a bullet makes when it impacts with a long-sought-after quarry. It’s in rising before the sun, warming yourself by the fire with a hot cup of coffee, or a pancake breakfast with friends after a bone-chilling morning afield.
All these things are a conscientious pursuit, the result of a series of choices without which they go unexperienced. You have to forego other things to taste and see the goodness of these simple pleasures; you have to get your hands down deep in the dirt of the earth and soaked in the blood of beasts. You have to put aside the endless string of emails, the office and the computer. You get disconnected so that you can experience the visceral connections that really mean something—those of men and earth, beasts and flesh, hands and soil. It’s a communal experience set free from the screens of smartphones and endless tug of those who pull the purse strings of life.
The coyote, like the country boy, can survive. More than mere survival, he can find joy in the things others call boring or ordinary—things like working with your hands, walking the windswept prairie and taking a front row seat when creation puts on its finest drama.