“Is Hank a huntin’ dog, dad?” asked my seven-year-old son Zack as we motored through the dark to our first set of his first coyote hunt. Hank, our Rhodesian Ridgeback shot me a quizzical glance from the passenger seat, as if he wanted to know too.
“Well Zack, I think Hank is more of a cheerleader” I replied. I could feel them both staring at me in the dark of the cab, both with heads cocked slightly.
Zack finally asked what both were thinking, “What’s that mean?”
“Hank likes to go, but would rather wait in the car and be happy when we get something.”
“Oh” Zack stated flatly, obviously disappointed.
Hank turned to search the headlights apparently comforted by my response. The warmth of the Blazer was always more appealing to him than the cold and wind of the rocks and sagebrush.
We putted down the highway turning towards the Columbia River of central Washington and the sage covered foothills above. The dirt road held 2 inches of fresh snow and our SUV made crisp lines on the white strips of the two track. I nestled the Blazer into a brushy cubby below the railroad tracks that ran between the sage hills and the river breaks.
After a few minutes of gear gathering, wind checking and a hundred whispered questions from an excited little boy, Hank sent us on our way with a lick for luck.
As we walked to higher ground, I would pause for Zack’s shorter legs to catch up. On the steeper parts he would hold on to my shooting sticks for re-assurance. We seemed to crawl the four or five hundred yards to our vantage point.
I set up the Alpha Dogg e-caller and Mojo Critter decoy in the open between the patches of sagebrush and boulders. We settled into our seats against an elevated bank 40 yards down wind and east.
Soon the sound of invitation howls and then cottontail distress were breaking the quiet of the morning, punctuated by the coughs and chugs of distant water-fowlers shotguns on the big river.
Zack sat to my left, close, but in his own shooting seat, his stainless-steel Ruger 10/22 across his lap, action still open, magazine in my pocket. His head slowly bobbed forward then back, his cold weather gear obviously working, as he slowly reclined, asleep against the soft grassy bank at our backs. Soft snores, covered by the light breeze, drifted slowly up and down. The 5 a.m. mini-mart soda had lost it effect.
The next round of crying critter brought him upright, rubbing his eyes as the first coyote broke from the brush 50 yards upwind, then a second. My cross hairs settled on the latter as it darted forward, only to have a third materialize in its place. The crack of the .204 seemed to make number three melt into the tall cheat grass. The deathly slow tail circles gave away his fate as number one and two, disappeared back into the sagebrush.
My now wide-awake hunting partner wiggled excitedly. I opened my Savage’s action and rested it carefully against the bank. “Do you want to finish him off?” I asked. He handed me his 10/22 as I inserted the magazine from my pocket. With the action closed carefully we approached the expiring coyote, where Zack made a carefully placed heart shot, followed by elated grins, high fives and hugs.
One set of snowy footprints and some drag marks were all that marked the path back to the vehicle, as the smallest hunter walked only on the brisk winter air.
Hank met us with a cursory sniff of our quarry and lots of wiggly, wet, warm licks to the face of my happy son. Rah, rah, go team!
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