Sleeping with coyotes

Paul
Paul Smith
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A while back, I dared say that coyotes were not solely responsible for the woodland caribou decline on the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador. I got lambasted royally for that one.

Some people got pretty hot under the collar. Remember guys; it’s just my opinion. I sincerely doubt if I’m influencing government policy or changing the rules of the game. That role is left to the professionals and experts.

What I know about coyotes comes merely from a bit of reading, not a complete literature search, and by other means, such as talking to other hunters and walking in the woods.

Most of us have heard before the general story of the Newfoundland coyote. Well, it’s actually the eastern coyote that just walked across the straits on pack ice and stepped onto Newfoundland soil, but I think the species has been here long enough now to justify using the term Newfoundland coyote.

There are people who don’t believe this version of events and propose a government conspiracy as an alternative. They are certainly entitled to their opinion and I will leave it at that.

The mainstream media version of the wily coyote coming to Newfoundland has him arriving by sea ice sometime before 1986, when a pup was hit by a car near Deer Lake.

Since then, the opportunistic coyote has spread all over Newfoundland, including the Avalon Peninsula, where for a while we thought, optimistically, that we might be spared the presence of this new and super-efficient predator.

Black Bears avoid us, but apparently coyotes see potential Eden in barrens, rocky outcrops, bogs and gnarled spruce. After all, they might have just stayed in the lush interior and central region of tall birch, massive pines and swaying evergreens. I’m joking, of course; it’s not that bad here, except for the weather.

As most of my regular readers know, I have a small cabin where I spend quite a bit of my spare time. Actually, I was in there yesterday. Well, not actually at the cabin, but about three kilometres further in-country doing some winter tent camping. Have you ever been lulled to sleep by coyotes? It was my first time.

Robert Richards, Cameron Gosse and I were sitting around the campfire yarning and sipping some Captain Morgan dark mixed with melted snow water. It was getting handy on time to hit the sleeping bags, about midnight or a little later.

The only sounds we had heard all night were a light breeze whistling in the spruce tops, the crackling of our rousing fire and a persistent owl that hadn’t stopped hooting since the late winter sun dipped below the hills.

We were soaking up the ambiance of the still and silent woods, nine kilometres from the nearest road.

 

But sound travels far and without much attenuation on a frosty night. A siren roused us from our tranquility with rum and nature, an ambulance or police cruiser, I’m not quite sure.

“What was that?”

“A siren on the road,” responds Cameron, seated comfortably on his chair of snowshoes topped with evergreen boughs, and leaning lazily on a tree trunk backrest.

He typically hears better than me. I’m much older and my hearing has been subjected to many more muzzle blasts.

But I heard something else mingled with the cold, synthesized electronic sound, a chorus more organic and earthly. We all perked up from our mild rum-induced numbness and listened intently. It sounded again, echoing through the forest, the distinctly recognizable yodelling and yelping of coyotes.

Maybe it was a mere coincidence, but it appeared that the siren had set them off somehow, stirred up their emotions, stimulated adrenalin — who really knows?

We hadn’t heard a squeak from them all night, although thoroughly expecting to. We were in coyote country.

Now the stealthy creatures let their presence in our neck of the woods be known with absolute certainty. They yelped and yapped for hours.

I crawled into down-filled coziness still serenaded by excited coyotes. I fell asleep, although fascinated by the melody of the hunt. My half-century vintage bones and muscles were fatigued from snowshoeing many uphill miles with a 40-pound pack. The dark malty devil’s elixir may also have played a role.

Rob said he awoke about three in the morning and the coyotes were still active and singing their indigenous tune. I was snoring.

There were once plenty of caribou where we camped. A decade ago, I’d established the habit of Sunday morning snowshoe hikes to this same area to view them foraging on the hillside for scarce winter sustenance. I skipped church for more earthly pleasures and someday I may need to beg forgiveness. For now I’m living dangerously. But today there are no caribou.

If one visited this piece of wild real estate sporadically, occasionally or even with regularity that some might consider spending a lot of time in the woods, you might conclude that the coyotes ate the caribou. That would seem a very logically conclusion.

 

However, I have spent just about every autumn and winter weekend in this neck of the woods for more than 20 years. The coyotes did not eat the caribou.

Four years ago, I saw the first coyote track. The caribou were already in landslide decline. Only a few remained of the 40 or so that had called this area home for more than a decade.

Maybe the coyotes ate the few that remained, but they certainly did not cause any sort of decimation.

I have no idea what happened to the caribou. It is a total mystery to me why they disappeared. They didn’t leave for greener pastures, because they have dwindled in adjacent areas as well.

It wasn’t poaching. I hardly see a soul on my travels.

I also have never seen evidence of either a caribou or a moose killed by coyotes. There are now plenty of both coyotes and moose.

People say coyotes hunt in packs and can kill caribou and smaller moose. Maybe they do in other areas, but not to any extent in the acres that I hike and hunt.

I know for a fact that they feed on the remains and bounty of our fall moose hunt. They hunt rabbits, grouse and squirrels. I’ve seen the evidence.

I have not observed more than two sets of tracks together — never a pack on the hunt for big game. I think they travel and hunt mostly by night. I expect they might kill a moose wounded by a misplaced bullet. There is no harm in that.

Whatever coyotes are up to, they are established and eking a living from our woods and barrens. I expect it is not an easy life.

What I know about the coyotes in my area says little about what they do elsewhere. They are noted adapters and survivalists. For all I know, they might be feasting on strict caribou-only diets in central Newfoundland, although my gut feeling is one of doubt.

My message is to be wary of jumping to quick conclusions or joining bandwagons of popular opinion. My observations on my own turf do not agree with what many say about the Newfoundland coyote.

Whatever his true nature and habit, the Newfoundland coyote is definitely here to stay. We will hear his yodelling for many decades to come.

I hated his presence at first, but over the past few years I have gained respect for his capability, stealth and cunning. I have hunted him and know he is no fool. We will never eradicate him by hunting.

We should shove aside the rhetoric and learn to live with the Newfoundland coyote.

After all, he is a part of nature and a resident whether we like it or not.  

 

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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