The praise was a little embarrassing. This rancher walked in hat-in-hand and began repeating, "I appreciate you guys coming to kill my coyotes. I really do. The more of those vermin you shoot the more calves will make it to market."
We were warming up in the living room of a ranch house feeling a little over-appreciated. Weren't we just there to hunt? Sure, we knew that, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), predators cost U.S. ranchers more than $71 million annually, but we found you really can't comprehend such statistics until you meet a rancher trying to earn a living from the land.
We were mostly wearing Cabela's clothing in the pattern Predator Deception, we had our Johnny Stewart PM-4 wireless remote callers and other predator gear ... yeah, we were a bunch of grown-ups looking forward to taking our toys on the playground-we'd forgotten we were also doing the rancher a service. So we stood almost blushing as the rancher gushed appreciation.
However, Al Morris, a Hunter's Specialties pro staffer, and Garvin Young weren't bashful about basking in the praise. This duo won the 2008 annual World Coyote Calling Championship; in fact, they're the only team to ever win this competition back-to-back and to capture three world championship titles. We supposed they should enjoy the appreciation; after all, being a World Coyote Calling Champion isn't exactly something you can just drop at a cocktail party in any old Blue State and expect praise; no, it takes a livestock owner to really respect a genuine coyote slayer.
I'd seen Al in action that morning. As a long-time coyote hunter, not necessarily slayer, I was eager to see how he gets it done.
I found his method of hunting coyotes bordered on work. He'll run roads hours before daylight using a howler and/or siren to locate packs. Then he'll figure in the wind and the available cover and food sources. Then he'll come up with his attack plans outlined on maps with all the gusto of a Navy SEAL Team before dropping in on Taliban HQ.
"Coyotes are intelligent," said Al. "This is a sniper's game, but it's also a hunter's greatest challenge. These critters learn fast, and nothing hurts a rancher harder than a coyote that was taught his lessons by sloppy hunters."
We parked and used Hunter's Specialties Scent-A-Way products to give us a little more time with circling coyotes. Then we slipped into a meandering patch of junipers and crawled onto a high spot overlooking a pasture in the foothills of southern Colorado. We lay prone, a gunner on either side of Al. We could see 600 yards across a pasture. Al positioned his Johnny Stewart PM-4, a wireless remotely operated caller, 50 yards in front and to the left to draw attention away from our setup. He crawled back and started the electronic caller. He began with coyote howls and then quickly transitioned to a rabbit-in-distress.
Four coyotes thought the cries of anguish sounded tasty. But they came in smart. At 300 yards they turned and began trotting south to pick up our scent. The .204 Ruger I had on my shooting sticks could certainly reach that far. I fired and one rolled and then the cold, gray January day shot past as we ran from setup to setup, staying 30 minutes per stop.
Winning the title of World Champion two years running meant being first in a field of 128 teams. The contest is held over a day and a half. Teams try to call in and shoot the highest number of coyotes. Al and Garvin managed to take 18 in 2008. We found out how Al and Garvin pulled it off-scouting, hunting smarts and running from setup to setup. I recalled that P.J. O'Rourke, in his classic tome Parliament of Whores, followed a U.S. senator around all day to see how professional politicians stay in power. O'Rourke ran out of steam late in the afternoon as the senator just kept striding fervently from event to vote to event. Success at anything, it seems, takes endurance.
Back at the house the rancher saw the dead coyotes lined up in the snow and began shaking our hands all over again. He knew the coyote population couldn't be reduced to nothing. Biologists at the Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins had long-since determined it's necessary to kill more than 72 percent of a given coyote population to lower it. But he didn't care about that. He knew a hunted, and thereby thinned, population meant the predators would be skittish around his cattle. And that was enough.