Archived Mountain Voices

A coyote in the yard

Monday morning … 9:15 or so … suddenly the coyote was there … as if from out of nowhere … a shadow moving in the pasture across the creek.  

I had glanced out of my workroom window moments before and nothing was there. The next time I looked up he (or she) had probably come out of dense tangle of rhododendron, laurel, and grapevine that cloaks the mountainside bordering the far side of the pasture. The animal was 35 to 40 yards away.

He was gray-brown with reddish highlights around his face and neck and down the spine. The underside was a lighter color. He looked as if he might weigh 50 pounds, but I have read that coyotes look larger than they are. It’s likely that he weighed 25 to 30 pounds and was maybe three feet long, including the long bushy tail.  

The coyote circled a post in the pasture on which a bluebird box was mounted. Apparently sensing (correctly) that it was empty this year, he moved out of sight under grapevines, perhaps checking to see if they were ripe. When he reappeared, he surprised me — instead of crossing the creek by wading, he crossed it on our new footbridge (built this year), as if he had crossed it many times before. Maybe he has.

I suspect he knew four of our five German shorthaired pointers were penned up and that the fifth (Zeke, who is 15 years old) was likely to be asleep (which he was). And I’d guess that the critter was headed for the far side of the house — where fallen apples from my wife’s trees litter the ground — when he sensed my presence and drifted around the other side, up a trail, and out of sight.

The last I saw of him, he was moving in a quick-footed dogtrot. Not dainty-footed or nimble like a fox, he nevertheless moved gracefully. He certainly didn’t “slink” in the manner usually ascribed to coyotes. My visitor was, in fact, a pretty animal. I had no desire to harm him, even though he and his extended family are a negative factor where we live.

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In A Natural History Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (2008), Donald W. Linzey noted that, “Coyotes originally inhabited portions of western North America. As forests were cleared, however, their range in the United States expanded eastward … Many coyotes were liberated by fox hunters in the southern states who had similar-appearing coyote pups shipped to them instead of fox pups. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has documented 20 different points in the southeastern United States where coyotes were released by people who planned to run them with hounds … Coyotes were first observed in the park in Cades Cove by Charles Remus on June 6, 1982, and now occur throughout the park” They also occur throughout Western North Carolina in backcountry, rural and urban areas. They’re everywhere and, like it or not, they’re here to stay.

Andy Russell, a professional trapper in Alberta, Canada, wrote a nice book based on a lifetime of personal experiences titled Trails of a Wilderness Wanderer (1970). Russell concluded that, “Of all the animals a trapper encounters, the coyote is by far the most cunning and intelligent. I have trapped foxes, which have a reputation for being difficult to take, but compared to a coyote the fox is a dunce.”

The pack of between five and 10 coyotes that patrols the area where we live west of Bryson City has decimated the small-game population on our property. Ground-nesting birds like towhees and ovenbirds have moved on. There are reports of missing cats and small dogs from neighbors. The pack likes to serenade us late at night with ongoing choruses of short yaps, long whines and loud barks. And now they are crossing our new footbridge into the yard looking for my wife’s apples in broad daylight.

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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