Until just a couple of hours ago, there were two of us alpha pack leaders nearby. One was genuine. The other, an impostor. Only one of is left, and it is not the impostor.
About 1:30 this morning, as I was sipping on my first cup of coffee, I was startled at a terrific explosion of noise on my front porch. From time to time, the coyotes get too bold for their own good, getting closer and closer to the house, until they are just too close. Tonight, they came too close.
Usually when the coyotes are on the prowl, chasing after their supper, their cries, shrieks, and howls make my own dogs content to lay on the font porch, emitting low muffled growls that each other can hear, that I can hear, but that the not-too-distant coyotes cannot.
“If you were up here on this porch, I’d tear you up,” Relay’s soft growl seems to imply, more for her benefit and mine and not as any real challenge to any coyote. I know that. My dogs know that. The coyotes know that. But, we all play the game and everyone wins because the dog’s self-esteem gets polished to a bright shine and the coyotes would really prefer that I not become involved at all. Sometimes, all of that fails. Tonight was one of those nights.
The cacophony of noise was tremendous. The dogs seemed to be fighting right on the front porch. I knew from the intensity of the noise and their ferocious growls that they had not cornered a rabbit, an armadillo, or a raccoon (though I daresay experience has taught them to give a wide berth to a large raccoon), and they usually nearly ignore the deer that come up to feed on the acorns dropped from my many sawtooth oaks that surround the house, the deer so common that the dogs know them individually by sight and smell, that there must be something unusual afoot…perhaps dangerous…perhaps human.
I went to the gun safe and procure my night rifle, stick in a magazine, and load her up. By the time I returned to the front door, the fight had worked its way down the hill towards the pond. I flipped on the 1200 lumen light (That’s pretty bright!) attached to the front rail of my rifle and wave it down towards the noise. In the cool night-fog, all I can see is a dance of glowing eyes with no ability to identify anything other than those eyes belonged to the noisemakers. The light could not pierce the fog. I headed down the hill, about 120 yards away towards the action. The closer I got, the more intense the action there seemed to be. I was unsure what I would find, but I was sure by this time there was no human involved other than me.
Sure enough, my dogs had cornered a coyote and had it down, somewhat but not completely resigned, so it seemed, to whatever fate would come, though still baring its teeth and biting when it got the chance. It had been chewed on pretty good, and Elsa Belle and Babalu were attacking it with grim determination, Babalu, his pit-bull teeth locked on the coyote’s hind quarters, pulling, tugging, and shaking, keeping it off balance, and Elsa Belle going for its throat. Relay and Ruby were in on the coyote attack, but mostly snarling from a safe distance, sneaking in for a bite or two when they thought it was safe, growling their encouragement to the other two dogs, and taunting the coyote who knew the jig was up.
So intent were they that me and the 1200 lumen light were unnoticed upon our approach. Glad to see that it was a coyote they had cornered, I gave a low whistle. Elsa Belle whirled around and barked at me, startled, perhaps thinking I was a coyote on her flank. Another whistle and she wagged her tail and jumped playfully as if to say, “Hey, boss, look and see what we have done. Aren’t we good dogs?”
I walked right up to the coyote as close as was prudent. I warned the dogs away, with a single command, “Mine!” I said. They all backed away from their prize, yielding it to me, the alpha male of their pack. Not being bitten or harassed any longer, the coyote just laid there, panting and bleeding, making no effort to run away. It was resigned to its fate. I raised the rifle and dispatched it with a single shot. It was a large male, about 50 pounds. Not the 75+ pound coyote alpha male of the pack of twenty-five or thirty that makes the environs of my home their home, but if not the alpha, certainly on his way to becoming the alpha, on alpha-track one might way. The real alpha coyote of the pack would not have yielded his life so quickly, but would have sold it dearly. I likely would have shot him from a much further distance, and my own dogs would be a bit more cautious than they seemed to be now: but their blood was up. They were in fight mode, which increased exponentially as the coyote yielded to them.
I admire the fact that my dogs know their place and protect their home. This coyote had grown so bold as to have fatally discounted the danger it placed itself by coming too close to my house, by discounting my dogs’ reaction to its intrusion, and by straying too far from its own pack. This is what happens when they get too complacent, too sure of themselves in their knowledge of their own fearsomeness, their own awesomeness, their own invincibility. It happens from time to time.
I like the way my dogs yielded to me upon my approach and claim of their prize. They didn’t pout about it, They seemed glad to yield to me whatever I would claim from them, after all, I am the alpha. They know their place.
I dragged the dead coyote to the dam of the pond where I will leave it so the other coyotes can smell its death and learn to fear the compound around my home. The had grown to not fear it, as they are wont to do from time to time, and it cost one of them its life. The other ones, not so foolish, will learn something from the death of their pack-mate, perhaps their sibling. For a while now, I will hear the coyotes from a greater distance, perhaps a faint distance, until they lose their collective memory of tonight and grow again bolder.
They misjudged my dogs. They misjudged the reaction of my dogs to a front porch intrusion. Babalu is about 80 pounds of compact muscle and fight. Elsa Belle is 70 pounds of fleet legs and hound dog determination. If she could just contain the coyote long enough for the much slower Babalu to arrive and sink his teeth in . . . then there was Relay and Ruby, waiting to chime in.
No doubt the real alpha male coyote was close enough by to have witnessed what was happening. He knew that could have been himself. Maybe he sent the junior male in to either be victorious, whereupon the alpha would claim for himself the spoils after having spilt none of his own blood, or junior, being killed, thus eliminated from the competition for alpha status. Either way, the alpha male pack leader was the winner. Junior wagered and lost. Perhaps he was cajoled into wagering so foolishly. His fatal lack of experience will become survival knowledge for the rest. Hopefully they will learn that too close to my house is not good. They are free to ply their trade and make their living anywhere on my place, just not too close to my house, and anywhere I can see them from my house is too close. Generally, if they are so bold as to allow me to see them at all, they lack the proper respect. I take it as my duty to teach them. In the long run, the pack is the beneficiary. though at great expense to some individuals.
Before I left the pond dam and headed up the hill and have my second cup of coffee and write this, I stood there and looked at my dogs and the way they looked at me, tails wagging, tongues hanging out of their mouths, panting even though it was cool. They were awaiting a word from me, their alpha leader. They were awaiting a good word.
In the voice I use to praise them, I said, “Y’all are such GOOD dogs! Yes, you are! Good, Good, Good Dogs!” They nearly leapt for joy, perhaps in admiration of the fact that in one instant, I put the coup-de-gras on the coyote while it would have taken them another half-an-hour and not a few bites to finally kill it.
While the dogs normally slink away at the sound of a metallic click from any firearm, tonight they did not. I had the boom-boom stick in my hand. When I raised it to fire, and clicked off the safety, they did not move an inch from their observing position. They knew what was fixing to happen. They encouraged it as it spared them some energy and blood. When I fired, they moved closer, not running away. I suppose they understand firearms when there is legitimate firearms business to attend to, and completely fail to understand why I am making all that racket simply shooting at steel targets.
When I said , “Good Dogs,” they all sidled up to me for an ear scratch, the rambunctious, oafish Else Belle first, then the needy Relay, then the too cool for too much emotional display Babalu, and lastly, the cautious and completely self-contained Ruby. Babalu sniffed his way over to the coyote carcass. He sniffed the coyote all over. Satisfied, he turned, raised his leg, and fired his own shot.
Me and the rest of the dogs all laughed at this display. He had to make his mark. He had to put his scent on the dead coyote. Now, when any other coyotes come up to this one’s carcass, they will smell the mighty Babalu on him and fear his magnificent pit-bullness. The will forever associate the smell of Babalu with death. Me and Babalu both want this. Perhaps it will become ingrained in the collective coyote genetic memory, passed down from one generation to another. Perhaps they will give my house a wide berth.
They certainly will for a while, until they grow too bold again, bold to the point of carelessness. Then, we’ll have a little excitement around here. Then, I’ll get to show my dogs who the real alpha is.
They love it when I do that.
©2015 Mississippi Chris Sharp