My wife, Janice, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. For eight years, while her mother was still alive, we spent Christmas with Janice's family, staying with her mom in the home where Janice and her brother and two sisters were raised.
A few days before Christmas, 2014, Janice and I loaded up our car and began the drive out to Kansas City. Since her mother's passing in 2011 and the sale of the family home we haven't been to Missouri, and we were looking forward to seeing everyone again. I'm lucky, I like everyone in Janice's family and despite my liberal New Jersey roots they all do a pretty good job of letting on that they like me.
Since the family home is no longer available we stayed with Janice's sister Sue and her husband, Harlan Hockett at their new home on their cattle farm in Adrian, Missouri. Harlan and his father, Buford, who is almost 90, own 1,000 beautiful acres and raise cattle for slaughter.
I had a lot of fun on the farm today.
Janice's nephew, Kyle Hinton, came by with his four-wheel drive pick-up truck, an impressive amount of cold-weather gear, and a remarkable supply of hunting equipment and he and I went coyote hunting.
Coyote hunting is fun, if you like to hunt, but it also serves a very serious purpose out here. Coyotes are a real threat to the safety of people, pets and livestock and there are a significant number of them constantly roaming around, looking for hunting opportunities. They travel in small packs and occasionally take down a calf. The loss of a single cow is serious business for a cattle farmer.
Farming usually operates on a razor-thin profit margin. Families don't get rich farming; they’re lucky if they make a comfortable living. Count your blessings that there are people like Harlan and Sue and Buford whose love of the open country and all-day-long labor outweighs their desire to accumulate large savings accounts.
Our hunting efforts were entirely unsuccessful but I enjoyed myself immensely. Kyle is great company, with a down-to-earth sense of humor and an unlimited number of outdoors stories to tell. You smile the entire time you're out tramping the countryside with him.
We hunted in two different fields. For our first effort, we hunkered down in some brush in a thin row of woods, and Kyle handed me a wonderful pair of Bushnell binoculars and a small, collapsible camouflaged stool to sit on. I was relegated to the joint role of spotter and observer, my time with firearms being so limited that I’d have been more of a threat to the cows and Kyle than any coyotes we might have come across.
Kyle set up a decoy rabbit that had a built-in, sporadically vibrating mechanism that made appear it quite lifelike. According to Kyle, more than once hawks and owls have investigated this phony rabbit to see if they could make a meal out of it. Next, a good distance from where we were hiding and from the jittery mechanical rabbit, Kyle set up a camouflaged portable stereo system that contains 250 – yes - 250! - types of animal sounds from a wide range of animals. These sounds include distress calls and challenge calls, “join the pack” calls and “this is our turf” calls. This portable stereo can be operated with a remote control after you’ve set up your hunting perch and have settled down to wait for your target to show itself.
Well, we used the caller and the vibrating rabbit and we waited very patiently, but we only attracted the attention of some of the grazing cows and several very passionate female rabbits. I think they really liked the way the mechanical rabbit busted some moves.
Once we conceded defeat for our first hunting site we move to another part of the farm and hid ourselves among several rows of enormous, round bales of hay. The hunting equipment was carefully set up again, animal screams and pleas for mercy resounded through the hills, but not a single coyote showed any interest in what we had to offer.
However, the chill that worked its way deep into my bones and the tears that fell down my cheeks from the cold breeze that came at us nearly the entire time we were waiting were worth every moment and every bit of discomfort, because for a full five minutes or so, with the help of the binoculars, I watch an incredibly pretty red-tailed hawk hunt in the light of the late-afternoon sun.
This was not the simple flight of circling, spotting, and diving. It was a form of elegant aerial ballet unlike anything I've ever seen before. I'm almost ready to believe that the hawk knew we were watching him and was showing off his best stuff for us. It was magical, it was graceful, it was astonishing and it was beautiful.
This is an experience I will not forget for a very long time, if ever. The regal stature of that bird, the grace and elegance of his maneuvers, and the gorgeous combinations of his remarkable colorings in the soft, fading sunlight all combined to provide Kyle and me with a truly breath-taking display.
Wow. Just “Wow.”
I simply can’t think of a better word.
More Information: Game Calls, Coyotes, Adrian, Missouri