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Stories by Mike Humfreville

The Tempests of Summer - Bahía de Los Angeles 1985, Part 16: Coyotes!    ( Posted June 15, 2004 )

One morning I noticed one of our water jugs had fallen over and drained into the sand. I didn't think any more about it than to realize we had lost water that was important to us. The village never had an abundance of water during the long summers and I didn't want to waste what was dear to them. We used our fresh water sparingly. We had three fifteen-gallon tanks to haul water from the well in the village. From these I filled a number five-gallon tanks. One of these went on the roof to provide hot running water to the kitchen. We also kept a number of one gallon plastic bottles for other uses. We bathed and washed cloths and dishes in seawater.

The next morning I noticed that another bottle had been spilled behind the hut, between it and the coop/corral. This time there were teeth marks on the top of the one-gallon bottle; Lassie must have been thirsty during the night, but then I realized she had been shut in the hut with us after we had gone to bed. Maybe we were getting coyotes in camp during the night. This was a worry because the chicken coop was not designed to keep mid-sized animals in or out; it was just a place for the chickens to roost and to secure Billy and Burlap.

That night I raked down the area between the hut and the coop and put a gallon bottle full of water with the top screwed on tight in the center of the area. I vowed to listen during the night for noises. Of course I fell asleep and didn't hear a sound. The next morning though the cap was removed and the bottle was turned over. I looked at the dirt and saw prints that looked like dog tracks, about the size of Lassie's, but thinner. So we now knew at least one coyote was coming into camp during the night to drink our water. This was surprising because there were only several meters between the hut and the coop. Coyotes normally don't like close quarters.

This problem occurred several nights in a row. We were concerned with the loss of water, but more so with the varmints becoming too familiar with our area and threatening. We were surprised that our chickens hadn't been killed already. That day I cut a small hole in the bamboo siding on the backside of the hut, alongside where I slept. When we went to bed that night I told myself that every sound I heard I was going to sit up and peek through the hole to see what was making the noise. From the hole I could see the coop and the entire surrounding area.

Several times over the next few nights I heard noises and quietly sat up to peek through the cutout. I never saw anything, but a water jug was spilled almost every night. This went on for a week and I had no clue how the coyote was getting to our water without my hearing. I was anxious to go back to sleeping the night through instead of getting up several times toward no end. One night I positioned the truck so that I could sleep in the bed with the rear doors opened toward the water jugs. I was sure the interior of the truck would be so dark that no animal would know I was there but I would be able to see it from the light of the moon. Wrong again. No coyote ever came while I was waiting in the truck.

I decided to rig a trap that would make noise when the coyote turned the bottle over. I balanced a series of tin cans on top of the bottle. I heard nothing during the night. The next morning the cans were all laid on the ground, the cap chewed off and the bottle dry. Finely I gave up on the idea of scaring the coyotes away. I put my twelve-gauge shotgun through the cutout at the rear of the hut, aimed at the water bottle location every night. I vowed that if I heard any noise I would look through the hole to sight the shotgun and, when I had a clear sighting, shoot the coyote.

The front of our hut looked north and east. On the hillsides above the fan on the other side of the plateau, where we had first seen Don, were many small paths, with one passing through each saddle in the hills to the north. We had wondered what animals used these paths, but they were always free of plant life, so we knew they were used. We assumed coyotes, mountain lions and foxes, but when you never see an animal it's difficult to believe in its existence. That day we were sitting outside the hut and, scanning the horizon, and saw a sole coyote, in full daylight, trot down one of the paths and onto the beach. She went straight to the ocean. Through the binoculars we could see her lapping up salt water. This was an indication of how desperate they must get during the days of summer heat.

For several nights I slept through the night without hearing a noise but each morning more water was missing. Then one night I awoke to the sound of water bubbling from the bottle and jumped silently to the peephole, saw the coyote, sighted the shotgun and jerked off a round before I could get fully behind the gun. The recoil knocked me completely off my cot and onto Mary Ann's. The deafening blast caused an immediate uproar from the chickens and Billy and Burlap. Michael and Kevin jumped up in alarm; this situation with the coyotes had gone on for so long that they had lost interest and forgotten. But I calmed everyone down and went outside to check out what I was sure was a dead coyote. The bottle was on its side, water still running slowly from the neck onto the ground. The beam of my flashlight flicked over the area with no sign of the coyote. The boys came out to help me find the animal. We searched for fifteen minutes and found nothing. I didn't want a wounded animal suffering, and tracked the area in widening circles around our hut and coop, looking for drops of blood or other sign. When we found nothing we went back to bed, disappointed and tired.

The next morning we got up and made breakfast and completed a final inspection of the trap in the daylight. I was looking at the area where the bottle had been, the tracks in the dust. The boys came back to help and one of them pointed to one of the outboard gas tanks, located adjacent to the area where we kept the water. I looked at the can from a distance and something was wrong, but couldn't tell what. I walked over and picked it up to see that the blast from the shotgun had struck dead center broadside. So there was no dead coyote. My aim had been off by a number of meters at that short distance. We all got a laugh. They started calling me deadeye. I relocated the water on top of the coop where the coyotes couldn't get it and I put the shotgun back under the cot. Let the coyotes win this round.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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