Drought Brings Predators

Ever been on a coon hunt? Flashlight in hand, stumbling rapidly through the dark trying to figure out which way the baying sound of the dogs is coming from. Naw, this wasn’t like that. Nor, waking up in your sleeping bag to the clanging noise of a BIG boar coon taking off with your backpack across the mountain floor, you soon in hot pursuit. Not that either. This was the waking up in the night to a screaming chicken, no doubt trying to beat off its attacker.

We’d thought we had them all inside the 2 chicken coops as the 2 grandkids and Kirk and I had rounded up 5 stray hens hiding under the large hay feeder next to the barn and searched around for more. Tired, I did not count heads. I simply fell into bed snuggling with my kitten. Not wise. Instead, I got to run out in my underwear to try and rescue the hen and in a worried mode, thought of the cat door into the barn. It would be easy for a coon to slip through and then unlock the rabbits cages. We had a neighbor’s pet raccoon that would come over at night and try and get in but the dead bolt lock was in place. I had an exciting childhood.

Why did we have hens out? Just as the light closes the shades and they were nestled inside, their heads slipping downward into slumber, a marauding skunk snuck in 2 nights in a row to steal eggs. Just before I close up the coops because the girls won’t go in any sooner. Cold will drive the hens in this week as winter is blowing in. I hope they do anyway.

I was afraid this would happen as I’d heard around me ranchers were dealing with badgers and skunks galore. The familiar odor permeates the air as I travel to the bus stop sitting next to a ranch house. The same friends who’d discovered one skunk riding on the back of their cow dog as it taunted the others when they ended the domestic terrorism with a bullet.

Skunks don’t usually kill chickens unless they are really hungry and this one had plenty of eggs to eat. Remember, after dark, the predators are Kirk’s. So I awoke him, told him to grab the predator gun, and take the back route to the front porch just in case the other racoon was lurking on the south side. Yes, we have guns designated for different tasks. We consider them a tool to use with great respect. Much better than rocks or a sledge hammer and yes, I’ve had to resort to those before when a gun wasn’t handy. It isn’t pretty and it’s heart wrenching to have to do.

Tubular, dark, seed embedded, and 2 to 3 inches long.

Just two nights ago, with the spotlight, I’d cheering my husband on while he hesitantly crept forward to get into position to shoot. “Get closer. He’s not going to spray yet.” as the skunk began raising his tail. “Don’t shoot a hole in my fence, shoot through it.” My farm cousins had pet skunks with the scent glands removed. They may not be able to spray but it didn’t mean they didn’t try. I been the trapper in the family but Kirk has started doing a little though I admit, I check where he puts it and which way he has it facing. This time, I’d moved it and it promptly caught our granddaughter’s cat. He’s a pound kitty and none too smart. So she let him go free and reset the trap. But this would be no black and white kitty I figured since it had left its calling card the night before on the front porch, seed embedded poop, raccoon style.

But what was I running to in the dark, I had no idea for sure. We do live where large predators roam. My experience is that in ranching country, usually they run. Rancher’s carry guns just as Kirk keeps a predator designated rife at the ready. I’m talking the four legged kind. For the two legged ones, we have a different set up.

Track of a 3 year old male wolf

Trapping is about knowing the animal’s behavior patterns. Knowing what they like to eat. What time of day they travel. Where they travel. What to do with them and though I know enough most of the time to get by. I sometimes forget if I’ve not trapped them in a while but the internet fills in those gaps of laps memory. As for the large predators, I just hope they remain near the creek and on the face of the mountain.

My father, managed two large ranches, trapped predators, controlled access to hunting, and called in coyotes. He once, with his neighbor’s threatened to shut off access to hunters on the land, (and it was vast, to hunting if the Wyoming Game and Fish did not lower the amount of antelope tags. They felt there were too many.) Hunting and trapping is a way to keep the numbers in control, not eliminate them. If you don’t, Mother Nature hits them with disease such as Rabies, Blue Tongue, and Wasting disease. All associated with horrific suffering and death. It also saves livestock from being eaten alive. Nature is beautiful but it has a cruel side too.

One of our favorites, Honeynut Cherrio

I’ve been worried. The extreme drought was bound to bring in predators. Our place looks like a smorgasbord. So I’ll kill a few older hens to shake up up the pecking order to encourage more young hens to shift over to the larger and more secure coop until I can put all the older hens in the freezer to be bottled later when I’ve more time. A few young hens have already made the change on their own with the new rooster.

So while some city folk think guns are unnecessary, they are a tool in our hands. We work with Mother Nature to keep things in balance, and to save our livestock. Occasionally, Kirk gets a license and hunts, putting meat in the freezer, mostly it’s old ones that would not survive the winter anyway. Or excess deer in the yard that threaten the life of our trees which form a critical wind break, and harass the hay fence, wearing it down. There is such a thing as just right and that is what we seek. With the severe drought, our neighbor has dealt with a rabid skunk and contracted Tularemia (rabbit fever), which is more prevalent in drought years. It will be a really tough winter on the wild life and if there are too many for the food supply, it will mean a high rate of death from starvation. It will mean we are fighting off predators as they move in to threaten our livestock, our food supply.

We’ve got one more coon to catch but it may not be our last. I’ve got some preparing to do, to make doors more secure. To lower our population so we have room in enclosed shelters, secure from predators during the most prevalent hours in which they roam. I just had hoped to have a little more time to prepare but such is life in the country. More often it tells you what to do and when. We only pretend to be in charge.

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