Words and Images from Ed Felker

Nose to Nose

yote

Hiking on a cold, blustery day, I kept my eyes to the ground, half to look for antler sheds, half to shield my eyes from a sustained, 30mph wind. I listened more than looked for my two dogs, who were running off leash ahead and behind me in about a twenty-yard radius. Not that I could hear much over the howling winds whipping the tall grass all around me.

But I did hear this. All day I’ve tried to replay it in my mind, but it’s hard to describe. A snort, maybe. Kind of a huff. An unquestionably animal, nasal sound. I stopped.

When I looked up, about fifteen yards up the slope from where I was standing, I saw Finn. He was absolutely motionless, broadside to me, and he was nose to nose with a large coyote.

They faced each other, statues. No more than a baseball’s diameter apart. In my mind I ran through my options. I’ll call him, and hope he comes and the yote doesn’t. Beyond that, I’m kind of out of ideas.

“Finn,” I called. They both turned their heads and looked straight at me. I somehow took a moment to compare them. The coyote seemed a bit taller than Finn, but he was on the uphill side, so truthfully they were probably the same height. Finn is a tall, lean 75 pounds. The coyote had thick fur around his head and neck, giving him at least the impression of being larger than Finn. I could read Finn’s body language, even though much of both their bodies, including the ever-important tails, were concealed by the tall grass. But Finn’s neck was erect, and his ears were up and slightly back. He seemed fine, maybe even playful, but just a bit apprehensive.

The coyote I couldn’t read at all. Ears fixed atop his head, body concealed, blank slate. Like reading a painting of a coyote. Not to mention my lack of experience with the animal – my previous closest coyote encounter was from about 200 yards away, at Yellowstone. This was new territory.

I just wanted to get some space between the two canines.

“Here,” I called, not overly forcefully. Without hesitation, and a bit to my surprise, Finn turned away from his new friend and trotted the fifteen yards back to me, ears up, tail wagging. The coyote watched him.

Eyes still on Wile E., I called for Winnie. Luckily, she was unaware of this entire transaction, and came when called from another direction. I watched the coyote.

He took a single step toward me and I felt utterly unprepared. I don’t know enough about these animals and their behavior. I don’t know the right thing to do if they show aggression, nor do I really know what their aggression necessarily looks like. My dogs were milling around my immediate area but I wanted them still and close. “Finn! Winnie! Heel! Now!

The firm commands, I presume, stopped the coyote in his tracks. He thought better of advancing, and turned around. A step into the grass and he was gone. Far too late I fumbled for my phone, held it up high and snapped a few photos, knowing there would be no sign of him in them. I praised my dogs, thankful this encounter was diffused without incident, and that it was Finn who encountered him, rather than Winnie. I’m not sure things would have gone as well if the roles were reversed.

Hiking back to the car (reducing that 20 yard dog radius to something closer to 10), I thought about the encounter. The noise of the wind likely resulted in Finn and the coyote surprising each other in the grass. I don’t think he knew we were there until he was snoot to snoot with what to him was probably the ugliest coyote he had ever seen. Finn likely viewed him as just a funny smelling dog who doesn’t wear a collar, but I really don’t know. He was absolutely disinterested in the coyote once he recalled to me. He never even glanced back over his shoulder as we left.

I, however, did.

4 Responses

  1. JaN

    Thanks so much for this. However, I wish you hadn’t been as I would have been and thought of a photo too late! I loved reading this…..fascinating for me. If only we could know what they are thinking.

    March 14, 2014 at 8:50 am

  2. Lucky encounter I would say. Could have gone a different way with them so close to each other. Glad Finn listened, and walked away so easily. Good dog that Finn!

    March 14, 2014 at 9:12 am

  3. This would have ended ugly with my dogs. Finn is a gentleman among dogs to be called away from a stare down.

    March 14, 2014 at 11:20 pm

  4. James Romanyak

    What are the carry laws in Va. Ed? AZ. has always been an open carry state and is now a constitutional carry one. I have always carried in the back country. Religiously since my first encounter with a cougar some years back. Currently, i drop a O/U 45 Long Colt derringer in a pocket ( break action, rigidly safe, also take 410 buck; American Derringer, Texas company run by a lady). i load 200 g. soft lead “cowboy action” cartridges. At point blank range, in the mouth, these will leave quite an exit wound. I can hold both in a dinner size paper plate to 10 yards. Don’t plan on killing anything, but….

    March 15, 2014 at 12:19 am

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