Saturday, March 28, 2015


There are about 60 species of mammals residing on the EJE Ranch, alongside circa 100 bird species, a dozen reptile species, a half-dozen amphibian species, and a gajillion insect species. That's just the fauna. As to flora, there are easily 25 grass species, 15 tree species, and about 60 forb species.

Nothing special about the ranch. Same stuff on both sides of the fence. The thing that's special, IMO, is nature.

As a rancher, I'm sometimes willing to let my non-ranching fellows assume that my life is that of the prototypical rugged individualist, dressed up like the Marlboro Man, galloping across the prairie on my trusty steed en route to imposing my will on nature. Big tough guy, large and in charge.

It isn't like that. Isn't like that at all.

In reality, I rely utterly on nature to provide the things I need to raise cattle and make a life. The very thought of bossing nature around is ludicrous.

As it turns out, I'm a simple farmer, not very much advanced beyond my neolithic forebears.

I've got a few modern tools and techniques, and because of them I lead a more comfortable and rather more certain life, but I'm by no means whatever in charge of anything nature does. I can do a few tricks to make my lot easier and a bit more predictable, but I cannot make the rains come or the grasses grow or the calf embryos quicken. Nature does that.

Now how did that introduction get out of control? This is what happens when you give a caveman the internet! My intent was to introduce the theme of 'man as part of nature rather than separate from nature.' And to 'splain why I feel a bit sad about shooting that coyote yesterday, a sadness which is not in any way guilt, and which is profoundly comforting.

The coyote is one of those 60-odd mammal species inhabiting the ranch. Canis latrans (latin for 'noisy damn dog') is the native canid of North America. Coyotes were here long before the advent of manifest destiny, and almost certainly long before the first humans crossed into the Americas from Asia.
Coyote on the prairie. Wikimedia Commons.

Coyotes are in many ways the poster children of nature's success. They are extremely well fitted to their environment. They are hunters and scavengers, and sometimes even cannibalistic.

Coyotes are part of nature, and therefore I embrace them. I am part of nature too, and occasionally the coyote and I bump into each other in our shared quest for survival. Occasionally the coyote prevails, and I lose a calf. Other times I prevail.

Yesterday as I hiked out across the prairie, scouting spring nesting sites (remember those bird species?) I came across a large coyote. I had the wind, and he wasn't sure what I was. From his vantage point on a small hillock 250 yards away, he peered closely at me, trying to determine whether I was a threat or not.

Since the pasture I was hiking is one of this year's calving grounds, I was indeed a threat.

I was hiking sans rifle, and carried only my Smith & Wesson .40 Shield. The Shield is surprisingly accurate for a little black gun, and fully capable of putting a 180 grain jacketed hollow point into a man-sized target at 250 yards. So long as the operator does his part.

Although he was big for a coyote, he was nowhere near man sized. Nevertheless, I was fairly certain I could hit him, so I took careful aim and fired. The Shield, BTW, is a joy to shoot, with the best DAO trigger I've ever experienced. At any rate, about three-quarters of a second after I fired the coyote leaped into the air and took off like a scalded cat for a nearby juniper grove. Three-quarters of a second after his reaction, I heard the "THWACK" of a solid hit.

I found the coyote about 15 yards inside the tree line, rapidly cooling toward ambient air temperature. The round had taken him just behind the diaphragm and had exited just in front of his left hind leg. As it traversed his belly, it had obviously disrupted the great vessels of the abdomen, and he quickly exsanguinated and expired.
Coyote. Wikimedia Commons.

He was a big, healthy, successful beast. Because of that, and because he was earning his living in my calving pasture, he was a threat. When nature's critters threaten each other, there are winners and losers. That's life in the real world.

Because nature chose to endow me with the capability to reason and ponder, I'm a bit sad at the coyote's demise. At the same time, I recognize that the coyote inhabits the same circle of life as I, and that at some point I, too, will find my mortal husk cooling toward ambient air temperature. It's the way of things.

I'm also a bit chuffed at making the shot.

Is that a paradox? I don't know, you'll have to ask nature.

More smartphone magic. Enjoy the day!


  1. The coyote must be a coyote. You must tend to your cattle.

    Sometimes the coyote's mission conflicts with yours.

    Sometimes he wins, sometimes you win.

    That's life.

  2. I have never liked coyotes, they have a sneaky look to them, not found on wolves, or at least not the Timber Wolves we have here in Wisconsin.

    Among your 60 flavors of mammal, is that most cuddly of American crotters, Taxedea Taxus to be found?

    1. Oh yeah, no shortage of Badgers. Rarely seen, but their work sites are ubiquitous.