It had been a long time since I had made the run up to the Bruce Peninsula. At least four months; I don’t usually like to go that long between seeing my friends, having some laughs, and stalking whatever game happens to be in season, but nothing I could do about it in this respect. The plan was just to leave work on Friday afternoon, get up there, and enjoy it.
Early on the Friday morning I had encountered a lone coyote as I drove past a field in Halton Region on my way to work, but since the Halton Region landowners, at least the ones whose doors I have knocked on, have not been keen on providing coyote hunting permission, I had no option but to drive on past. That and the fact that all the artillery was locked and safely stowed in the trunk of my car. My workday was filled with thoughts of that morning encounter and the hopes that it was to be a good omen for the weekend to come.
By 7pm, a blustery headwind from the north had been conspiring to wreck my fuel mileage for pretty much the whole trip, and just north of Wiarton the same wind offered up some sleet as a side dish. A couple of years ago on a particularly wet turkey trip, a friend of mine had chided me for ‘bringing the bad weather’ and his absent-minded cliché rang in my head as I drove through the increasingly deteriorating precipitation. I stopped for an oil-change and a haircut at a friend’s on the way up (he provides oil changes, his accommodating and lovely wife handling the mane-taming duties) and had a nice little visit with them. By the time I again made the road, ankle-deep slush made the going slow. I pulled into my cousin Luke’s house for about 10:30pm and over a drink we discussed the weather, the coyote hunting to date, the prospects for turkey season (a mere eight weeks away!) as well as the various and sundry other things that men talk about after the spouses go to bed. By that time big, wet, aggregated snowflakes had begun to fall, and the wind had reached a new level of ferocity. A morning hunt was not looking promising.
Just on the dark side of 6am, Luke opened the door and said it had stopped snowing. I could still hear the wind blowing a gale and Luke let me know that it had swung around and was blowing straight from the west. Still, I was there to hunt and so long as the worst of the precipitation had passed I was fit to get going. The plan, as always, was to hit the road early and look to cut a fresh track or spot a coyote out foraging in the fields and then put the dogs on the trail. That exercise usually took the better part of a morning, and then I intended to while away my afternoon raising hell with my rabbit distress calls in the hopes of luring a cagey old coyote into the range of my .243WIN.
No sooner had our derrieres hit the seats in Luke’s truck that the snow and sleet began to fall. Or more accurately, the snow came at a wind-driven angle that was more or less parallel with the horizon. Visibility was, ahem, minimal and as such we spotted no coyotes or fresh tracks that morning. The only beasts foolish enough to be out in that wind storm were us. Bacon, eggs, sausages, and toast accompanied coffee as we re-thought the day’s plans. It was a short discussion: if the wind and snow wouldn’t co-operate we’d have no choice but to lay low for the day. So we did…all day. But at least we got to have a good meal or two.
Sunday morning broke snowy but slightly less breezy, and I was chomping at the bit to get out and get the dogs running. Within fifteen minutes we had the hounds on a track, and I was stationed with my pal Rory near a copse of balsams and cedars while the dogs howled away in a block of trees. The barking got closer and then the hounds broke from the woods…but no coyote was in front of them. Either they’d lost the track or the coyote had gotten out from them and past Rory and I before we had been in position. We broke for the road to get ahead of the pack, and hopped out again and hit the woods. One more time the dogs came near and once they came so close that I could hear them crashing through the underbrush. Still, the coyote remained elusive.
Just about that time, the wind picked up, but the sun came out. They coyote eventually headed south and we travelled en masse to get ahead of it once more. While we waited in position, Rory and I were able to creep to within eight feet of an Eastern Screech Owl that was just lounging on a fencepost next to cedar thicket. While we watched the little owl and tried to determine its species, the crafty Canis Latrans got by the blockers and snuck across the road into a block we could not hunt. Defeated but not discouraged, some other hunters of our group gathered the dogs and we set out once more looking for fresh tracks or a coyote out loitering in the open. Just north of where we’d been last stationed Rory spotted a very crisp and fresh track crossing the road from east to west into a good block of mixed forest and fields. We put three dogs on the track and we were off again, heading down the road to get ahead of the hounds and deploy blockers on the field edges. I was set up leaning on a fence post facing north into about as bitter an early March wind as one could come up against. As my cheeks and nose took on the characteristics of wind-beaten leather, and as my eyes watered in the wind I waited for the trusty hounds to push the coyote out in front of me. Once more the dogs were duped by North America’s shrewd answer to the jackal and as we approached the breakfast hour we decided to call it a morning.
One Mom’s Restaurant famous Farmer’s Breakfast later, I returned to my cousin Luke’s place and as he blew snow out of the driveway, I packed my gear up. A call from my wife bearing news of a family emergency precluded an afternoon calling session, and I had to hit the highway south. As I left I was told that the coyote hunting had “been better last week” and that the weather was going to change up and that I ought to return “next weekend” for more coyote hunting and the annual local hockey tournament…which is always a fun time, or so I’ve been told.
None of this surprised me. I’ve always had good success with waterfowl and have had plenty of sightings, close encounters, and opportunities when turkey hunting. Heck, even my recent form in deer hunting seems to be on the upswing, with a deer down in 2009 and two close encounters this past season. Yet the coyote, in its well-adapted resourcefulness, continues to elude my best efforts to take one in front of hounds or solo with the call. It seems I’m always a week behind the good hunting, or I depart just before it picks up again. Like most game animals, I’m absolutely certain that the coyote is better at avoiding being prey than I am at attempting to be a predator, but that only makes sense; coyotes benefit from centuries of adaptations to both environmental and mankind’s pressures…I’ve been only been out hunting for about 20 years, so I’m still learning.
And that challenge is the reason it’s fun, even if I continue to fail.