Outdoor Writing Contest finalist: Dueling Predators
It is still dark as the boy quietly closes his truck door.
Rifle in his hand and coyote on his mind, he starts on his way. Darkness and cold closes around him. The thermometer read 17 degrees when he left the house, but with this open-country breeze, it must be colder. His breath is a trail of vapor and his steps generate muffled crunches in the snow.
He weaves his way through the sagebrush—one predator in search of another.
The boy walks the fence-line in search of the right spot, his mind wandering ahead of him. This land is as much a part of him as anything. From the road it looks flat, but hidden beneath the thick cover of snow is a complicated maze of ridges and ravines, boulders and brush. He knows this labyrinth like his mother’s voice, and walks until he finds the spot.
The boy knows the coyote mind: It will approach with the wind in its face, able to smell all dangers.
The coyote ear can hear a dying rabbit from 5 miles away and detect every blood-soaked shudder in its voice.
The coyote nose is tuned to a degree capable of shaming a K-9 dog.
To lay everything on the line in a battle of wits and instinct against this natural champion—this is what the boy is after.
He sits in the snow, a rancher’s three-strand barbed wire fence to his back. Motionless, he hears the beating of a quail’s wings and the sound of a far-off farm truck making its way to town. The fresh snow is like powered sugar dusting gingersnap cookies and smells like holiday wrapping.
A hawk calls from across the pasture, its screech piercing the icy pre-dawn grey. The sun starts to send warm stabs of light over the sage-covered prairie.
The boy lifts his call to his mouth. A cry slices open the picture-perfect morning. Misery drenches every trembling tone, each wail revealing layers of a sad and mournful fiction story – a jackrabbit being choked by an eagle, its lungs bursting with pain, its feet scrambling madly in search of a way out of talon’s grip.
The boy ends the call on a sad and grief-stricken note and slowly lifts his binoculars to his eyes. He sees a doe making her way out of a ravine in a hurry. He sees the hawk he heard circling above, in search of the dying rabbit. He’s intrigued, but not distracted.
He scans the brush-covered wastelands until he sees what he is after. The distant coyote lopes across the snow in search of the dying rabbit – its next meal. Its ears are erect and its torso is low, wary of danger – the champion approaching his next victory.