WOSTER: South Dakota seen ‘in the wild’I hadn’t seen a coyote in the wild in years and years. Even so, there was no mistaking the creature, any more than a person can mistake the sound of a rattlesnake.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
A couple of weekends ago, as we drove home a bit before midnight from a pow-wow at Lower Brule, a coyote flashed across the highway ahead of us and into the north ditch about a mile short of Kennebec.
I hadn’t seen a coyote in the wild, so to speak, in years and years, and this one made its move across the interstate way out where the beam from the headlights was beginning to fade. Even so, there was no mistaking the creature, any more than a person can mistake the sound of a rattlesnake.
I’ve had a fascination with coyotes since I was a kid. I understand the damage they can do to a herd of sheep or young calves, and I’m not one of those people who would suggest to the ranchers that they consider “taking the herd in at night,” instead of trying to kill the coyotes. (A well-meaning activist from Colorado did make that suggestion to me when I was still a newspaper guy and the news carried a couple of stories about the crash of an airplane being used to hunt coyotes from the sky. A rancher I talked with later didn’t think “taking the herd in” was all that practical in Harding County.)
But I once owned a pelt (the wildlife major who gave it to me assured me it was the largest coyote ever trapped east of the Missouri River in South Dakota, and how many chances does a person get to own such a trophy without actually going out and collecting it?). When I was a young farmhand greasing the machinery late one evening before leaving the field, I knelt in the dirt and watched a coyote lope across the prairie not so very far from me. It was a pretty amazing sight.
My son in Chamberlain has a place on the river, and he tells me they can hear coyotes howling from the other side of the Missouri on quiet nights. Leaving aside the damage to herds, as I said, that’s about as romantic a sound as the whistle of a distant freight train in the middle of a starry night.
Well, so I didn’t hear this coyote howl the other weekend. I only caught a glimpse of it, as I said, but it was enough to stir the blood some, and the following weekend as Nancy and I drove home — again not very long before midnight — from the pow-wow in Fort Thompson, I was half expecting to see a coyote or two somewhere along the bluffs or draws that border Highway 34 between Fort and Pierre.
Sad to say, I didn’t catch a glimpse of so much as a stray farm dog or cat, and we made the trip both nights last weekend. On the trip out, just about suppertime each evening, we did see several deer in the pastures and meadows. On Saturday evening traveling east, I noticed a pair of deer quite close to the highway just about where the road from Holabird hits Highway 34. Now, I know this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I marked that spot in my head and, on the trip home in the dark, I paid extra attention to the shadows along both sides of the highway when we approached the Holabird intersection. A person can’t be too careful when traveling at night.
Reflecting on that trip, I understand with my brain that the odds of a pair of deer hanging around in one spot for five or six hours — waiting for one particularly red Chevy pickup to come along so they could leap into the road in front of it — were probably pretty low. The odds of seeing a coyote probably are much lower than that.
My kid brother, Kevin, would know. He knows stuff like that. He has spent much of his life kicking around the river breaks and prairie draws, hunting and fishing and studying the behavior of game animals. If I asked, though, he’d look at me like I was goofy, and he’d shake his head.
Instead, I kept my mouth shut and my eyes peeled.