BRASS IN POCKET
The season starts after a 1,100 mile drive to the Montana Highline and ends, a week later with empty brass in your pockets. You shot your only coyote of the last day, just before dark, two downhill miles from the truck. Plateau to creek bottom downhill miles. By way of a meandering, snow covered, rock strewn coulee. Which means it'll be two, deep dark, uphill miles back to the truck.
Sliding your hand to the knife pouch along the right leg of your coveralls, you find your fingers fumbling for a handle that isn’t there. Did you lose your skinning knife along the way or maybe it’s still at the windmill where you skinned two coyotes yesterday. This was an unwelcome event. It would be a situation if it was the first day or two of the hunt. Still full of vigor and promise. But not after 7 days of tent camping when the day’s high temps never reached zero.
The locals have stories to tell about the coyote hunter from Iowa. The café owners ask the ranchers and well workers who stop by the tent to check for signs of life, “If he’s frozen when you stop, take a picture for the Bar. We’d all like to see what an Iowa popsicle looks like!
No, this was an event. Two or three skinned coyote hides dragging behind you by a piece of leather cord are rewarding yet annoying. But a whole coyote, feet choke chained together and slung over your shoulder like an overnight bag, is a burden. You don’t think about how far you have to go and you certainly don’t train your eyes ahead. Just stare at your feet and put one in front of the other. When you occasionally shift the coyote to the other shoulder you look ahead hoping to be surprised by new surroundings.
A sensible man would never be in this position. Would never be two miles from his truck in daylight, let alone dark. Would never carry a dead coyote 20 feet let alone two miles. Would never worry about abraiding the guard hairs draggin a ‘yote on snow rather than carrying it.
But sensible guys just care about calling and shooting coyotes. They don’t know the personal value of true “Montana/Alberta pales”. They aren’t shooting coyotes to decorate their homes. This wasn’t the first time you had to catch a breather and remind yourself why you must be so protective of these pelts. They weren’t for sale. They were for keeps.
You can comfort yourself with a reminder that just two nights ago was worse. A night when a guy realizes that winter cold is relative to how sweat soaked, tired, hungry, thirsty and far from the truck in the dark you are. And that it’s ten degrees colder when you don’t know which direction the truck is. When your thoughts are confined, not to getting out, but to where you’re going to curl up for the night.
(Know that I’ve been there. Curled up in ice coated coveralls at 10 below zero in a north Montana bale lot waiting for the fog to lift. Don't let anyone tell you to just kick and tear an opening in a round bale for shelter. Those guys have no idea just how tight, round bales are wound. I was lucky to get my legs between two bottom row bales and barely cover my upper body with loose hay. All within 100 yards of my truck for the entire 7 hours.)
Finally, the truck is a dark blob between snow and sky. After seven days of daylight to after dark, cutting across coulees in 8 inches of snow, sometimes carrying coyotes hundreds of yards to skinning posts. Many hours of sitting in snow waiting for coyotes that only sometimes show up. And you can think of only one worse scenario.
The only thing worse than all this misery would be empty brass in pocket, and no coyote over your shoulder or drag marks of skinned pelts, blotting out your trail in the snow.