Column: Riding in the wild means coexisting with wildlife

'Switchback'

Long days on the bike mean early starts. Very long days mean even earlier. The other morning I was up well before the sun; a final check of my gear before turning my light on to illuminate the trail ahead. Almost right away I came across a couple deer grazing just off T396. 

It can be a bit spooky trying to blend in with the woods and find one’s place under the moonlight. Climbing up into the hills, waiting for the sun to finally break, I found my rhythm.

Just past dawn I rounded Willow and Watson lakes. The grass is high this time of year, yet my eyes spotted a coyote darting for cover — occasionally bouncing just high enough to catch a glimpse of its tail before it vanished right before me. Of all the animals I come across, the coyote is one of my favorites. Nimble, quick, wary and very hard to follow for more than just a few moments.

I was reminded of a time when I stumbled upon a coyote that was still, right there next to the trail. I stopped and approached slowly, keeping a safe distance as I knew this behavior was far from regular. It was breathing, although very lightly — offering no movement other than the occasional twitch. I sat and watched, willing it in a way to get up and dart off … but slowly realizing that this would not be the case.

Eventually all signs of life went missing and it lie tranquil, only a slight breeze moving its fur. The day was coming to an end, but I moved closer. Still nothing, even though its eyes were wide open.

Grief came over me as I realized this coyote had died. I felt a bond being there for the final moments. Because of this shared experience, I just could not let it lie for scavengers to plunder. I rode down the mountain, grabbed a shovel and headed back up with my car.

It was pitch black now. As I walked the trail I hoped it had run away, but there it still lie. I began digging a hole off the trail. I wasn’t really sure if it was the best thing to do, but it felt like the right thing to do. As I gently picked up the limp coyote, I noticed from my headlamp a gunshot wound through its chest and a small pool of blood in the dirt.

The place this all happened was far from town. No ranch or farm lands are located nearby. The closest camp spot was, well, not close. This coyote was wounded and then ran, shot by a gun with little regard as to the result. I began to wonder what type of person could do such a thing.

Why explore and enjoy the outdoors just to kill what you might find? I felt truly despondent, as I realized I would neither understand the reason nor really want to do so.

I ride by the grave on occasion. Years later, it’s still hard. I guess in a way I feel it was a special moment to come across this coyote just before it passed — to witness its final breath.

Maybe in a way I could show the coyote at its very end that all humans are not bad. There are those that respect the wildlife we come across and choose not to fear it. They admire that wildlife for what it is supposed to be. Wild.

Steve Reynolds is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Instagram at @Prescottopia. Contact him by email at sportsdesk@prescottaz.com.