The night wore on, but I wasn’t worn out.
In fact, I wasn’t cold anymore either. The body is an adaptable and surprising piece of biological engineering. Sitting still on a snow-covered rise, I swore I was getting warmer. More than ever I was eager to see what the night would bring.
The first full moon of the new year is called the “Wolf Moon.” So it was fitting that on this night we were afield under its unblinking gaze in pursuit of the bush wolf. You know him as the coyote.
My guide for the evening was primed. He had this date marked weeks before and reminded me at regular intervals. He hoped the snow cover from the post-Christmas storm would stay. Snow cover, and a full moon, meant the possibility of calling in wild canines at night. A clear sky would mean enough reflected glow to give our daylight rifles extended time.
Wild canines are all around us, the fox and coyote. But being a predator, they live in the shadows, stalk in the quiet hours and best reveal themselves by tracks.
It was a perfect night. He was clad in store-bought white camo, from the hat on down. White tape spiraled his gear. I wore what I had just to stay warm. For concealment, I use an old white sheet with a fresh hole for my head. A pallid poncho that, when I plopped in a snowdrift, I just disappeared.
The ridiculous look of an armed and disheveled Casper the Ghost wasn’t lost on me.
The night beckoned. The world gets larger in the night, the sounds more queer and the tension of anticipation more pronounced.
The first attempt of the evening, a “sit” in the parlance, had a positive start. He predicted this certain woodlot held our quarry. We’d sit about 100 yards apart in a pasture and call to the timber about a half-mile distant.
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Before we crossed the fence line from the road, a commotion of yelps and howls came from the woods. I got attacked by that feeling of my hairs standing on end, not from cold or fear but from excitement.
Trudging through drifts is tough enough. There’s an extra challenge when you have to avoid getting sweaty but not dillydally either. The trick is to get warmed up on the hike in but not overheated for the motionless waiting to follow. I did neither the first time.
When’s the last time you’ve spent more than 30 minutes alone with just your thoughts in a snow-covered place? Currier and Ives couldn’t have painted a more enchanting scene. At once it was bright enough that I saw remarkably well. But at the same time dark, with so much to hide in the inky shadows.
My guide broadcast the screams of a rabbit in a death struggle. Would the promise of an easy meal be enough to lure a naturally wary coyote? We waited.
The speaker played all sorts of dreadful sounds, from raccoons fighting to puppies whining. We waited.
By now my toes were throbbing, any longer and they’d just go numb — I knew the drill. We waited.
I strained to make out any sign of a skulking coyote or fox.
“Hey.” A whispered shout caught my attention. My guide was about 50 yards behind me. He’d been trying to get my attention for a while. I turned to the sound and saw nothing until he finally waved his arms overhead. If the coyotes weren’t coming, it sure wasn’t the fault of his camo.
The second set of the night was a bust. We plodded through another field, just about to our spot when a passerby took exceptional interest to our truck parked on the country road. His honks, flashing of lights, and calling out made us return. We were worried about vandalism or worse. Thanks for nothing Frank.
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Our third and final sit had me enthused. The guide said this place was thick with rabbits. Rabbits attract foxes and coyotes.
We repeated the drill from before. I had the feeling of time accelerating, of an urgent pressure while the bawls and screeches projected to the timber beyond. Surely this time we’ll see something. Surely. And then it was surely time to pack up.
We met to commiserate before the hike out.
“Didn’t you see him?” my guide asked. “Huh,” I struck back, dumbfounded.
“Yeah, the coyote came right out from that fence line, poked along those cedars and kept going past your direction,” he said.
“No,” I replied, “I didn’t see him at all.”
But I wasn’t dejected, rather I was elated. It worked. So I didn’t see him this time, but he was there and so was I. Our paths crossed and that was a victory tonight.
Later driving home alone, I came along a pasture where two owls were clearly flying passes at one another in the moonlight.
“Life after dark” isn’t just reserved for those at the party, but also for those who seek the wild wonders of the night.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.