John Harrigan -- Hate coyotes, adore the wolf: explain, please

JOHN HARRIGAN September 15. 2012 8:46PM

The other evening, with visitors from afar in the barnyard, the coyotes began yipping and barking and singing from down in the swamp. I hushed the company so we could hear this siren sound of the wild, which is music to my ears - and always will be.

I mentioned this the next morning to a visitor at work, who said, affably enough, 'All well and good for you, but I'd shoot every damned one of (them) I could get my sights on.' I really didn't want to get into it with him, so we went on to more agreeable things, and then off he went, rifle in his truck-rack, presumably at the ready.

This attitude - the only good predator is a dead predator, based largely not on livestock protection but on competition for game - is lessening with each generation but will probably always hang on, handed down by ancestors and camp lore. I heard it in camps hither and yon during my own growing-up years and carried some of the bias into early adulthood, when the illogic and immorality of it slowly dawned.

There came a day, finally, when I was on my way down Bishop Brook Road to work at the Beecher Falls factory of Ethan Allen and spotted, via peripheral vision, a fox running hell bent for leather across a pasture. I jumped out of my vehicle, 30-30 in hand, to crank off a couple of shots before it streaked into the woods. And why, I immediately thought, had I done that?

For no good reason. For the same no good reason that our neighbor and other farmers we knew routinely shot hawks out of the air because everyone knew they preyed on chickens and ducks - and not just farm creatures but creatures of field and woods, which people with .22s and shotguns were after, as well. A good predator is a dead predator - it was the law of the land. And late into my teens, I'd succumbed to that law.

The bottom line was that late that previous fall, I'd shot a sow bear for no good reason. Now here I was in the wonder and birth of spring, trying to shoot a fox for the same no good reason. And I had an epiphany there and then, which was that never again would I draw a bead on a predator unless it had a pet or a farm creature by the throat - and even then I'd probably holler 'Drop it or I'll shoot.' (As it so happened, a few years later a fox with a chicken in its mouth did exactly that.)

'God's Dog' is the older, kinder, gentler and, perhaps, Indian-based name for The Trickster. The ever resourceful and adaptable coyote is the responsive breeder that shrugs off all of so-called humanity's arrogant and fruitless attempts to eradicate it. It's the walking replacement in the niche of things that we created by ruthless persecution of the wolf.

This leads to the kind of vexing moral problem of hypocrisy that would be fun to mull over, if it weren't so ludicrous. Why do we profess to so love and adore and worship and seek closeness to the wolf, the supposed poster child for all that's remote, wild and free, the mournful soul-searching stuff of poetry and song, not to mention fawning documentaries and movies, while at the same time we're taught to despise and persecute by any means - bullet, trap, wire, poison - its close cousin and equally beautiful and rightful occupant of the wild, the coyote?

Once in a while, back when I was a major part of a major sheep operation - featuring very tight, clean, hot electric fences and imposing pasture guard dogs. The big Maremmas that would tear a fox or coyote apart but would never harm a person - a well-meaning neighbor or visiting hunter ( hunters always being welcome on our land), would offer to help get rid of our coyotes. I'd beg off from this supposed favor by saying that we had these coyotes all trained and would just wind up having to train a whole new bunch.

This often resulted in a slight widening of the eyes and a polite withdrawal, but the mindset still exists, straight across the grain of common sense, facts and knowledge to the contrary.

John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. His email is

John Harrigan

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