There were a good six inches of snow on the ground, and more was falling lazily. It would let up now and then, but the incessant wind would bring more back beneath the low branches of the pinions, making the flakes swirl and dance with each other.
It was a powdery snow, so every step I took was silent, with nothing but the tracks of my hiking boots as proof I had come this way.
Shotgun resting in the crook of one elbow, I made my way past my sleeping dog. The snow sprinkled across his face and back provided little camouflage for his bright brown fur. I wasn't out hunting, but I knew enough always to have a gun on me out here.
While the bears may be hibernating, the mountain lions had no such inclination, nor did the wolves and the pesky coy-dogs. I wished we had more than just the two shotguns. Oh well. It was better than nothing at least.
I had just made it out of the clearing that marked the edge of our camp. The trees were thicker here. Large pinions huddled close while junipers and cedars dotted the landscape, making it hard to believe that I was in New Mexico and not back in Wisconsin.
Blanketed in snow, the two places could easily be mistaken. I found myself simultaneously missing the large farm I grew up on in the sandy pine forests of Southern Wisconsin and excited for the new life my family and I were beginning.
Coming through an area of thick branches, a flash of sand colored fur came rushing at me. Instinctively, I raised the shotgun and fired.
The retort rang through the trees and fell flat on the snow, chasing after the enormous coy-dog that had just tried to rush me.
I knew this coy-dog well; it wasn't the first time he had come to me in our camp. My eyes scanned the ground, following his trail and seeing it would eventually veer north. He'd likely stopped to lick his wounds and watch me, calculating his moves and deciding what to do based upon my behavior.
I turned and headed back to the heart of our camp, retracing my steps. Passing my dog, I saw he had finally woken up and was startled and confused.
It was clear that he had once again, never seen the coy-dogs in camp - an unforgivable sin for a dog when we were living a good four hours from the nearest town and hospital in weather like this. Hell, it was doubtful the road was even passable right now.
Stepping into the pop-up camper we were living in for now, with hopes of building a cabin come spring, I saw my beautiful children huddled around my wife's laptop and watching a movie. I quickly told her what had happened. Quietly, she laced and tied tight the mountain boots on her feet - a souvenir of my time in the military. She quickly tied back her long hair, tucked it up under a stocking cap, and donned her coat.
I checked to make sure the heater was still running and pulled out some snacks for the kids, letting them know we'd be back as soon as we could. My wife followed me out of the door, grabbing the other shotgun that rested beside the door. I watched as she slipped one shell into the chamber and tucked two more into her coat pocket.
The Coydog Hunting Begins
We walked back in the direction I had come. It was easy to find the spot where the coy-dog had turned tail and bolted back through the trees. Bright red drops of blood stood in stark contrast to the soft snow.
Following the tracks, we identified a good four more coy-dog tracks that were dotting across the trail, sometimes sharing the trail, other times just zig-zagging across it. However, this coy-dog was larger than the others, his gait lopsided. I was pretty sure I had hit him in the front shoulder as he seemed to be favoring one of his front legs.
The trail continued north, then veered west. We eventually crossed our makeshift driveway that wound its way amongst the trees a good half a mile from what passed as a road in these parts.
The mesa angled upward in this section, but the coy-dog veered north again, avoiding the jagged cliff-like edge and keeping to the flat areas. Following, we saw him stopped, sitting behind a tree. Next, I raised my gun, aimed carefully, and squeezed the trigger.
The clever bastard saw me raise my gun and darted. My aim was true, but it was gone by the time the buckshot made it there. My wife followed his path with her eyes, spotting where he sat down again maybe fifty yards out and behind a dense cluster of cedars and junipers.
The other coy-dogs that ran with this big guy continued to dart about, crossing his tracks and flitting about the trees just out of sight. They didn't concern me much. I focused my thoughts on the light colored coy-dog.
Any animal that had no qualms about attacking someone as big and angry as I am wouldn't have second thoughts about going after any of my kids. The youngest wasn't even two years old yet, not even weaned. I knew what I had to do.
He was gone by the time we made it to the trees. There was a small ridge here, so the coy-dog was able to ghost on us. We had no idea which way he went, and his tracks were so crisscrossed with those of his pack we weren't sure which were which.
My wife and I studied the tracks following each trail for a few feet, then following a different set of tracks. In the end, we chose two that had a similar gait and foot size, splitting up to see where they went.
It was beginning to snow again, the flakes accumulating on the ground and making the older coy-dog tracks quickly fade. I was worried that if it continued to snow hard enough, we’d lose the trail of the alpha.
"Got him!" my wife called out. I quickly followed the sound of her voice, only to find her squatted down over the trail she'd been following. "See that?" she smiled. Looking down, I saw the thin strip of tissue laying in the snow, a few drops of blood half covered in the snow surrounding it. "Looks like you didn't miss him after all."
Both smiling and feeling more determined, we hurried down to a low spot, both of us lengthening our stride so as to move more quickly yet quietly. We found ourselves on a small ridge just above a tree lined valley and stopped. Neither of us moved as our eyes scanned the area, trying to pick out the coy-dog. By the looks of the tracks, he wasn't the only one that had headed down there.
"There!" I followed my wife's eyes and saw the fluffy tail of one coy-dog run up out of the valley and into the trees on the far side. "Crap, there's another one!" I saw that one, sitting strangely and staring to the west.
Taking aim, I squeezed off another shot, but the smart old coy-dog saw my movement and took off, heading into the thick trees on the western edge of the valley.
We ran around the edge of the valley, anticipating where he'd come out. Spotting his tracks, we hurried after him. I wasn't sure if we were ever going to bring this guy in. It was clear that I had hit him, but not enough to make him do anything other than stopping now and then to rest which isn't unusual behavior for coyotes or coy-dogs alike.
But, whether we got him or not, I was determined to at least scare the bastard off my land and give him due pause for coming back near my camp again.
A drop of blood here and there let us know that we were on the right trail. But the drops came fewer and fewer as the coy-dog headed out into an area where the ground was more uneven. Our feet occasionally came up sharp against the lava rocks that covered the ground like grass does most places.
The terrain was getting rougher, and we hadn't seen a glimpse of either the coy-dog or any blood in quite a while. Plus, the snow was starting to fall hard again.
Looking up at the tree tops, I could see we were getting close to one of the mountains that marked the edge of the section of land where we lived. We'd come about two miles tracking that coy-dog. My thoughts turned to the kids, and my wife and I made the only decision we could at that point.
Turning back, we walked determinedly, though if anyone had seen us, I think they would have noticed the discouragement on our faces and in our posture.
The air was thin here, and at nearly 8000 feet up, it took us longer to make our way back than planned. We'd only been living in these mountains for about a month and hadn't quite adapted to the thinner air yet.
Back home, the children were happy to see us. The movie they were watching had just ended; they'd finished all of the snacks, and of course, were starving and in need of more food. Unloading the shotgun and resting it by the door, I smiled and began to recant our not quite successful coy-dog hunting trip for the children who listened with wide eyes and eager faces.
By Jason S.
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