By Ben Gruber
Mother Nature is an artist, and in January her landscapes are both beautiful and harsh. On a frigid day last week, her brushes were the wind and a low-angled sun. Her canvas was my face as I sat in a sled on a knoll overlooking a snow-covered prairie. The sun, low in the sky, reflected of off the snow and burned my exposed cheeks while the wind and 5 below zero temperatures were building a magnificent ice sculpture from exhaled moisture on my beard.
Fifty yards away, in a clump of browned and brittle goldenrod, my electronic caller was hidden, playing the sounds of a feline in distress. The hope was to seduce a few four-legged predators into shotgun range.
I have never really done any serious coyote or fox hunting, but when I caught a fox trying to get into the henhouse here at Bear Creek Ranch, I knew it was time. I am a big proponent of utilizing what you harvest, and because I really have no desire to eat a canine, I have never gone out of my way to hunt them. I will utilize their fur though, and they should be pretty close to prime now.
I do not have a disdain for predators that some do, but I do realize that there is a predator-prey imbalance that is in part the result of us two-legged predators. Encroachment of suburban development into rural areas as well as changes in agriculture practices have disproportionately affected the prey animals like rabbits and pheasants, while the predators like coyotes and red fox have adapted quite well.
So there I sat, trying to convince the wiliest of critters that my recording of a dying cat was its dinner. On this day it did not work. The experience was not all lost however. A beautiful specimen of a barred owl came in to investigate and perched on a nearby oak tree and studied the caller for 20 minutes, trying to decide if it could digest it or not. In the end, it flew back to its nest in the top of a giant white pine tree nearby.
I do have one red fox hide in the shed, and it shows evidence of my lack of practice skinning these critters. Clearly, more practice is needed. I will tuck it away for a rainy day and work on tanning it. It will make a nice pair of mittens for a toddler, and my daughter Addy will love it.
I love watching her grow up out here at the farm, knowing the circle of life and developing an appreciation for the harmony of nature. She will have — and already does to some extent — a healthy respect for all creatures and understand how to utilize those that we choose to harvest and our role in the balance of nature.
Get in touch with me if you are good at calling coyotes and are willing to teach. I would love to tag along.
Ben Gruber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.