Coyotes are cunning animals, able to thrive virtually in our back yards as well as in remote wilderness. Their hair-raising howls are often heard, but we seldom get to see these crafty canines.
Coyotes do, however, have a few weaknesses in their armor.
First, late winter is when coyotes breed, and February is the peak of the their mating season. That means they are on their feet more often, especially the males as they wander the landscape in search of mates. Call it the coyote rut.
Second, coyotes always seem to be hungry. The colder the weather and the deeper the snow, the more difficult it is for coyotes to find food. Therefore, they are more susceptible to calling this time of year. Now is when a hunter or a photographer can more easily lure a hungry coyote into range by employing a call that simulates a prey species in distress. The most popular coyote call imitates the mournful cries of a rabbit about to meet its fate. Upon hearing the ruckus, a coyote responds while thinking an easy meal is available.
So it was on a dreary but frosty February morning. I suited up in white camouflage and set out in an attempt to lure a coyote into camera range. A previous scouting mission in the area revealed several sets of coyotes tracks. The canines had been hunting mice and voles in the open meadows surrounding a willow and alder lowland, where I knew they liked to spend the day loafing.
As I left my truck, camera and tripod thrown over one shoulder, I noted the rime-covered grass swayed slightly in the wind. It's of utmost importance when calling coyotes to be sure the wind is in your face. Coyotes use their noses to detect danger, and it's fruitless to call if the wind is blowing in the direction from which you expect the coyotes to appear.
The snow was deep but soft and quiet underfoot. I tiptoed within 50 yards of the lowland. I ducked behind a small clump of trees and readied my equipment. I scanned the terrain in front of me and tried to determine where a coyote might appear and what route it would take if my calling was successful.
From my backpack I grabbed a predator call, placed it between my lips and did my best to imitate a rabbit in distress. The sorrowful wails echoed across the lowland. I thought to myself, "What hungry coyote could resist that?"
After a few minutes of calling, I noticed movement just inside the heavy cover. It was a coyote. The predator was attempting to circle downwind while staying in the willow lowland. I had chosen my calling location wisely, and now the coyote entered the meadow. At about 20 yards, it stopped and stared at me. I took several images as the wary animal peeked from behind the frost-covered prairie grass. I'll never forget those piercing yellow eyes.
Seeing I was not the easy meal it sought, the coyote quickly retreated in the direction from which it had come but not before I captured the image I envisioned from the start.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.