The Wild Life of Floyd

Coyote sizing me up
Image by eyesplash Mikul via Flickr

“Listen. Do you hear that?” Ann called down from her perch upstairs, windows open, well after first light this morning.

She suggested I step out onto the front porch, which I did. And from just across the road where Goose Creek and Nameless Creek meet, came the bleating of a fawn. It was either separated from its mother or it was being tormented by dogs, most likely, though we’d not heard any barking.

Out of the dense woods ran a fawn, not newborn by any means, followed soon by the mother and then a dark shape I couldn’t at first make out through the maple trees along the road. I ran to the bridge across the branch to get a line of sight out over the field.

It was a coyote sure enough, following the fawn up the hillside behind the barn. I could still hear the young deer bleating and the mother running circles around the attacker. I ran inside and grabbed the gun.

Coyotes rarely hunt alone, so I took the gun off safety and waited. Here came a second fawn from a pair of twins, and a few seconds later, the wolf-shape of a second coyote. He was out of range even if I was skilled with the rifle–which I’m not–and at 250 yards, my two shots scared him, sure enough, and he headed in a puff of dust down the length of the valley, his partner still tormenting the young deer.

Ambivalence: knowing how many excess deer we have around here, the dearth of predators, and the aggravation of the dog being tormented by their scent and Ann vexed by the possible (if very unlikely) face to face encounter that might injure the dog. So I shot to frighten, as if I could have done any worse.

Needless to say, we kept the dog on the leash this morning, and walked (toting the gunpowder-powered noise maker) along the road instead of our bear-infested, coyote-crowded loop through the woods. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Dang Fred, sounds like you’re in a veritable wilderness. I enjoy reading about ALL of your experiences with flora and fauna in Floyd. I tried calling in a coyote a year or two ago, and my distress call ended up bringing in a concerned doe. It must have sounded a little like a bleating calf. Anyway, if you had a rabbit distress call, you might become a coyote magnet. Sure like hearing about all of the animals like turkey, bear and coyote around Floyd that really weren’t there much when I was growing up.

  2. If it wasn’t dangerous wildlife in the woods, it would be idiots in the city. And the coyotes around here know that the city folk think they’re pretty little doggies and will let them get close enough to snatch a cat or a fluffy little bichon.

  3. I don’t live in the wilderness like you do, but I have my share of wildlife. Foxes, possums, fawns and hawks have been seen here lately. I am sure glad we didn’t see coyote – since I don’t have a gun with which to scare them off.

  4. Congratulations! It’s nice to hear you have lots of critters in the woods. I remember the dearth of life in the Blue Ridge of northern VA as late as 15 years ago. It seemed so sterile. Perhaps it has changed there now. We have the turkey/dear/coyote/bear/bobcat/lion here, some of them as near as our back fence. Love watching the critters.

  5. I saw two turkeys, numerous deer, a raccoon, and a bear cub on my property this visit. I’m glad I wasn’t between the bear cub and its mother! It was about 200′ away, moving through a patch of stickweed. I also saw a skunk in the neighbor’s pasture and was told by one of my neighbors that he was going to shoot a skunk until he saw it dig into a ground hornet’s nest and eat the hornets. He decided that skunks have a place in the grand scheme of things, after all!

  6. Fred, We had a bear cub the other weekend 20 yards up the bank behind the house. It may be time to move the dog food to the front porch… Keep practicing with the noise maker. I couldn’t hit anything at 250 yards either… Jake got two bottle caps in a row last evening. I won’t mention how many rounds we shot before that success 🙂