Plants and Animals

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Coyote

This canine’s beauty and cunning make it especially rewarding to see in Missouri’s outdoors.

A few years ago, on vacation over Christmas, I woke up to a fresh snow. Still dark, I looked out the window and thought to myself, “This could be my day.” I donned my camouflage hunting coat and headed down the hill to a creek bed that runs across the north end of our small farm, camera gear in tow. Although I had seen coyotes on the farm for years, I had yet to photograph one. But this day would be different as I’d never used a coyote call, always thinking that I could just intercept one of the wily critters along its hunting route. Finally, at the prodding of a friend and avid coyote hunter, I purchased an inexpensive predator call and decided to try it for the first time on that snowy morning.

The coyote (Canis latrans) looks much like a dog, the German shepherd in particular. Some coyotes are more reddish along the outer legs and muzzle while others are more gray or yellowish. As seen in the photograph, coyotes have intense eyes, tawny in color. Coyotes live in semi-open, brushy country, along timber edges and in open farmland throughout Missouri. Rabbits and mice are the major food source for coyotes but they also eat plants, including persimmons, of which seeds can be found in their scat. I enjoy watching coyotes feed on voles after a winter storm as they focus on the sounds beneath the snowy blanket and pounce on the unsuspecting rodents. Coyotes are mostly nocturnal, but are sometimes active during the day. They often live alone, but also are found in family groups. Coyotes mate in the spring and have litters of five to seven pups. Both parents care for the young as they learn to hunt and fend for themselves. Coyotes are considered a furbearer in Missouri and are hunted and trapped for their pelts.

I arrived at the dry creek bed, checked the wind and made my stand, back to the bank. I conducted a final check of my camera settings and waited for enough light for a photograph before I tried the call. As the sun’s rays found my location, I broke the eerie silence of the snow-covered landscape with the new call. The sound sent a chill up my spine as I began scanning the area, careful not to move my head. In less than a minute a gorgeous coyote appeared before me, 50 feet away. I can’t remember where it came from; it was just there. I don’t know how many seconds elapsed before I regained my composure and hit the shutter release. I snapped two photos before the canine predator’s innate sense of survival kicked in, prompting it to do a quick 180 and disappear into the woods, tail between its legs.

It has been at least three years since I photographed the coyote on that snowy morning, and I’ve tried countless times to repeat the experience to no avail. Perhaps I’m lucky, as my subsequent defeats have enhanced the memory of that unique day and my respect for the survival skills of one of Missouri’s most stealthy animals.

story and photo by Danny Brown

To learn more about coyotes, including listening to an audio recording or watching a video of a coyote, visit www.mdc.mo.gov/node/977.

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