A Spring Storm
Well, as I type this article, what I expect (and hope) to be the last spring blizzard of 2022 rages on outside. All highways in the area are closed, and the local police department has issued an announcement that all traffic is restricted to emergencies only.

I’ve got plenty to do at my shop, and we’re just now heading into the coyote denning season at work, but there’s no immediate reason to go outside. As long as the electricity stays on, all is well.

So, with a fresh cup of tea, fortified with a spoonful of local honey (reportedly to help with spring allergies), and some music for background noise, I’ll sit out the storm for now, and type this article.

It seems the seasons come and go in the blink of an eye.

I know when I was young, some of my older friends and family members told me that time flies when you get older. I remember turning 30 like it was yesterday, right down to the fact that my mom and dad drove all the way from the U.P. of Michigan, to Jordan, Montana to visit me, and that we’d gone out for supper the night before. I also remember the black birthday card that a friend sent me, and how he’d made a big deal about the fact that I was turning 30 and that I’d be the first one in our tight group of childhood friends to be officially “over the hill”. Like anyone else, I laughed it off, and never really considered what the next 30 years would bring, or where I’d be, because I was doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and that was hunting coyotes.

Well, 30 more years have flown by and in a few days, I’ll turn 60, and not a lot has changed, at least in how I make a living. There are still predators that want to prey on livestock and there are also still people willing to pay to keep their numbers in check. I know I’m fortunate in the fact that I’ve been able to do pretty much what I’ve wanted to do with my life. It’s safe to assume that I’ll get to retire from the lifestyle someday, with no regrets about how I’ve spent most of my adult life.

Like I was warned, the seasons and years are going by fast. At times I have to remind myself that it’s actually a month or two later in the year than I’d been thinking it was, and I’m constantly pushing to get projects done. This spring has been no exception.

Spring is a time of new green grass, new calves and lambs to protect, and hopefully, moisture. I was only in western ranch country a short time before I realized that the main topics of conversation often revolved around rain, the possibility of it, and the lack of it. In a lot of ranching areas, especially areas with sheep, coyotes and other predators are also a source of conversation. I’ve had many enjoyable visits with ranchers, cowboys, and Basque sheepherders about them. But, no matter how long the conversation lasted, or the variety of topics covered, they almost always ended with something like, “But, if we don’t get some rain soon, it won’t matter”.

I remember, at first, being amused by those ending comments and the notion that it seemed to be just an attempt to end a topic, until I learned that it was fact, and in a big way, life. Moisture meant surviving another year. Now, after almost 40 years of living in western ranch country, I habitually watch the weather forecasts and rain gauges as much as anyone. Snow accumulation doesn’t really mean much until you figure out the moisture involved, and let’s not even mention the fact that the wind often involved dries out the ground by robbing it of moisture as fast as it gave it to us. So, when a late spring storm is settled in and blessing a large portion of the plains and western states with heavy, wet snow, a person has to be patient, and cautiously appreciative.

I hate to think of the fact that there are calves being born out in it, but I also know that most good momma cows knew the storm was coming before we did, and had a sheltered draw or windbreak picked out well in advance. And, most ranchers pay attention to the weather as well as anyone who has 200 traps in the ground, and they try to make sure that shelter is available too.

Our youngest son, Riley, works after school and on weekends on a local ranch, and he “snap chatted” his mom a few hours ago that they’d had 15 new calves already today, and that was in early afternoon. They were moving them from a lot, with wind breaks on two sides, to a bigger barn to get them out of the weather. Storms spur on calving usually, and while it increases the odds of losing a newborn calf to the elements, it does deliver moisture that will grow the grass to help keep the survivors alive later.

Spring is usually a brief period of time between winter and summer in Wyoming, and it seems like just yesterday that we were hunting coyotes in the hot June and July sun, and another summer will soon be upon us.

Since late winter, traditional denning areas are the main focus to do preventative control work in. I know our efforts will pay off, with the usual few exceptions.

While pulling and moving traps and snares the last month, I’ve paid special attention to any and all sign. After setting an area most of the winter, it’s obvious that any predator sign left in early spring is made by either new comers looking for a place to set up shop, or worse, a survivor or two. If you’re doing predator control work, it’s only good business to keep track of such sign, which becomes kind of a mental inventory list and you have to decide on how to deal with it.
There’s no doubt that coyotes can get used to sets if they don’t get caught in them after a while, and they’ll just naturally avoid them. And, some get circle shy when they encounter where other animals have been caught; as anyone who traps canines will often see. If you don’t add in a few sets and get them caught, they might actually change their travel ways and habits a bit.

It’s tough to not let yourself get used to setting an area in a way that you consider to be adequate and then riding it out until the intended animals are taken. I’ve done it a thousand times, especially when spread really thin over a large area. In cases like that, I might not re-lure a T-bone or add bait down a hole for a month or more, and I’ll only go close enough when checking to make sure there isn’t an animal caught in the set. Many times, when I finally walk directly up to the set(s) to add smells, I’ve noticed that a jaw of the trap has been exposed by the wind, or a few links of chain are visible and coyotes have been avoiding it. A track or two at the edge of the pattern or some obvious sign of scratching will show that they do know it’s there. In most cases, the fresh lure or bait being added and getting things covered up and ready to go again will do the trick, but not always. Some just plain avoid that spot from there on out.

I usually try to keep adding a few new sets in as often as possible when working an area, to catch those predators that are just making a habit of missing your sets for various reasons. Coyotes can cover a lot of ground, and they might be visiting more than one of the locations you’ve got traps set at.

I’ve also seen where too many nontarget catches, like badgers and porcupines, will hurt a location too, which is contrary to what other trappers have told me, but I’ve found it to be the case many times. Too much digging and debris and ground duff churned up can spook some coyotes where they’re pressured.

So, in the spring when I’m pulling a lot of traps and snares, I’m constantly stopping and looking at trails and bare spots where I suspect I’ll find a single track of any coyote that I’ve left or missed. In my mind, any coyote sign needs to be evaluated, and a decision needs to be made on how to most efficiently proceed on harvesting the coyote(s) that made the sign.

Spring means cows with calves and possibly some yearling cattle returning to pastures that have been void of livestock for several months. In sheep country, some rough pockets of cover that are denning areas for coyotes are also the type of terrain and brush used for range lambing. So, you have factors to consider when doing your cleanup preventive work with equipment before denning gets into full swing in the weeks ahead.

Trail setting is out of the question for me when cows are placed in a pasture as virtually every trail is packed down like concrete within a few days and most, if not all, traps are sprung constantly. Of course, any trail snares need to be removed in advance of any livestock being placed in a pasture, so constant communication with a rancher is a must.

I’ve also learned that a quick check of any fence snares in perimeter fences is prudent because so many cattle run the perimeter of even the biggest, (several sections or thousands of acres) pastures in the first day or two.

Livestock being placed in a pasture can also change the canine’s habits a bit, especially shy, old coyotes. The general activity of people on horseback and with ATVs and maybe a dog or two, is all noticed by older coyotes. Sure, they’ll come in and clean up afterbirth from calving and the occasional stillborn or weather killed calves and lambs, but many times they’ll use a different route, and it might only be by 100 yards.

Many times, when livestock are moved in, I’ve caught an old veteran coyote in a snare under a fence that had been hanging there for several months without a catch. The change in activity was enough to change their habits a bit.

Constantly reading sign is part of the job, and before the spring moisture either absorbs in to the ground or is taken away by the wind, the mud that is created will help you find a few tracks.

As for trap sets, I still run a few dirthole type sets, like I do in the winter months, with a big hole dug with a cut down tile spade or a 4-inch auger being a favorite. The added dirt from the large hole not only adds eye appeal, but it also creates a bigger area for you to spot the track(s) of a shy coyote that has become used to your sets. Often a single or partial track is all you’ll see, and you will then have to change tactics a bit and set at another spot, or maybe try something as simple as changing or adding to your bait that’s in the hole.

By ranging out and finding their sign in another spot, you can usually find a spot or two that is just as good, or better than your original location. Again, a fresh set or two will usually work.

Spring predator trapping can be rewarding, especially when you factor in the long-term advantage and effects of eliminating predators that are pretty much located where they’d be all summer, possibly in close contact to livestock.

It’s another season in the year, and it will go by fast, and it’ll be hot and dry before you know it. In a few days, my buddy will send me a text instead of a card, wishing me a happy birthday. And, I’ll be the one warning my kids about how fast it all goes by.