I’ve often said that I won’t hunt critters I don’t eat, except for vermin. Coyotes are vermin. Now, apparently, in some states, wolves are in danger of being classified as the same. I’m no expert, but it appears to me that the difference between shooting coyotes and shooting the bigger wolves, firepower-wise, is considerable. A larger caliber firearm just seems logical.

Lately the news is all about killer dog packs on the reservation. Back during the Paleolithic era when Sandi and I lived in Montana, one fall season a certain pack of feral dogs was starting to gain a bad reputation in our area. Similar to the current situation on the Crow Reservation, except these dogs were mostly livestock killers and operated at night – mostly. Unfortunately for these critters, when winter came, so did a tracking snow.

With a suitable bounty in place, I was enticed to go play in the snow. In those days, for light work, I usually carried my obsolete .32-20 Marlin pump rifle. I’d bought it dirt cheap because it was so obsolete that no one else wanted it. The exterior wasn’t bad, the bore was pristine and the previous owner had mounted a four-power scope on it, totally ruining any collector value it may have had.

I loaded a cast bullet that weighed around 115 grains over a hot charge of Unique, or maybe it was 4227, for a velocity of around 2,000 fps, if memory serves. It was about the same terminal ballistics as with the WWII .30 caliber carbine. In other words, not much bang for your buck. Even with a scoped sight, its effective range was only about 150 yards on smaller critters, but it was head-shot accurate on blue grouse out to 60 or 70 yards. Back then, it was what I had that served as a small game or varmint rifle.

When I had money for store-bought ammo, usually from a fur sale, I’d borrow my neighbor and close friend Dave’s Mossberg .22-250. That was good to go for either coyotes, dogs or deer. Anything more than a .22 rimfire was legal for deer even way back then in Montana.

It’s been my experience that feral dogs are smarter than the run-of-the mill coyote, trap-wise or after having been shot at. Plus, most of them do not fear humans, at least until a few of them get shot. This particular pack of mongrel miscreants, when pressed hard, simply disappeared. Their leader seemed to be a large German shepherd-type of canine crossbreed. It was very smart.

Once, while out on Black Tail Mountain, just south of the pass, tracking a coyote in the snow, I slipped and fell down a steep slope into a shallow ravine with a small stream running through the bottom. The heavy brush growing alongside the creek, mostly dense rose hips intertwined with thick growths of willows, broke my fall, so I was still on my feet when I hit the bottom. Good thing too for this was apparently where the feral dog pack holed up when it got too intense for them out in the flat country. At least it was on that particular day and they weren’t happy with me literally dropping in on them.         

All of which was sorted out with the .32-20 pump, but that big shepherd-cross leader got away clean. I saw him a couple of times over the next couple of years, but never in range of whatever gun I was carrying at the time. Then he just vanished, and I suspect some rancher finished his livestock killing.

Point is, the two medium-sized dogs that came after me down in that brush-choked ravine were handily taken care of with that .32-20 pump. Even if I’d have lost it during the scramble down slope, I had my old three-screw, .357 Ruger Blackhawk and a good knife with me. I learned about going armed at all times in the backcountry way back during the early 1960s, down in Arizona, where they had major problems with livestock-killing feral dogs running in large packs, sometimes attacking people. Anyway, for whatever reason, people sometimes disappeared out in the desert while exploring or looking for gold.

Back then I generally carried my issue .38 special, loaded with 158-grain hollow points and a generous helping of 2400 powder, when out and about.

However, those larger packs are somewhat rare here, perhaps because free-ranging feral dogs simply aren’t tolerated. Either by the cowboys, ranchers or competing wildlife like coyotes and wolves. All I know is that if I could still wander the backcountry during winter months, I’d be packing a .22-250 for collecting coyotes. Or maybe a .243 just in case a wolf pack showed up and decided I was prey. (Don’t sneer, it’s happened enough times to be documented up in Canada and these wolves are transplants from Canada originally.) Plus I’d have a large caliber hip gun for more serious wet work.

I don’t know where the prices on pelts are currently, as demand for the luxurious fur ebbs and flows, due to the capricious nature of the international market. Preferably, one should shoot coyotes during the early winter when the pelts are prime or close to it. By calving time shooting coyotes for their fur is pretty much past tense, but most ranchers still need to protect all those new calves and lambs.

Back in the 1970s a lot of folks were into shooting coyotes for the fur money. If memory serves, some pelts were selling, case skinned, stretched and brushed, for well over a century note. That was a good paycheck back then. Many hunters didn’t want to bother with the skinning or repairing bullet holes, so sold the dead yotes’ intact. Which meant that the dealer who bought the fur usually deducted $25 or $30 per carcass to deal with that chore. One fur buyer I knew knocked off $30 for skinning and stretching, and then paid his man on Friday only $15 per coyote to do the work.

But since Dave wasn’t working anywhere else, he didn’t mind. More than one night he’d jump into my jeep for a ride home smelling like a freshly skinned skunk. I didn’t mind unless it was real cold out, then that little heater the older jeeps have would barely keep the windshield defrosted with the windows all up, let alone down for fresh air.  

Anyway, after gas and jeep repairs were paid out, we never made much money, but usually it was enough to help pay for Christmas presents. Plus it was a fun way to spend time out in the fields and woods.

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