On snowshoes I found some recent sign. Below is my interpretation of the event. Tracking wildlife is as good as seeing critters if you know how to interpret sign. A little imagination is required for this type of interpretation.
The forest is all quiet but for an icy breeze that moves air between naked branches. Snow filled woods dampen all external sounds. A coywolf’s fur, beige and black, lifts up on her back while being ruffled by the wind. She steps quietly in the snow. Last year’s surviving pup lags behind and watches his mother. Her moist black nose goes into the air discerning and separating all of the scents until she recognizes one worth interest. Her direction changes into the wind and her pace quickens at the chance of a meal. The pup, nearly a year old now, keeps pace but stays behind. He is gangly and still a little awkward. But still he stays alert and on his best behavior. This is serious business.
As the female coywolf starts bounding, throwing white snow into the air behind her as she traverses the landscape her approach is noiseless. The snow absorbs all sound as she pushes forward aiding her chances as she scans the forest with her eyes. And then, without warning, a snowshoe hare bolts out of low yew cover. The hare puts on one awesome burst of speed and heads for safe cover. The coywolf closes in with her son in pursuit at some distance behind her. The rabbit takes a hard turn to the right in an effort to reverse directions. The young coywolf is there and ready. He grabs the hare by the neck and with one shake the rabbit perishes.
The young coywolf drips the prey and dances onto his rear legs, rearing in celebration. He howls a long mournful cry and is joined by his mother nearby. This howling tradition serves as both celebration and warning to other animals in the vicinity. The mother runs over, staying on the hare trail, and inspects the prey. She picks the snowshoe hare up by the nape of the neck and drops it onto the ground again, directly in front of her pup. This offering is typical of a mother coyote, allowing her young to eat before she takes part.
The young coywolf separates the meat from the pelt on the rear of the rabbit. Fur flies, the hare is tossed into the air, and the yound coyote tears the hind quarters off of the hare, lays down, and holds it with his front paws. His bloody muzzle is worn as a badge of pride as this is one of his first kills. His mother stands by and watches the horizon. These woods are full of dangerous thieves. Fisher, bobcat, and other coywolves would be happy to steal this meal. There is no pride when it comes to survival.
The young coywolf looks at his mother as if to ask her if he can finish the meal. He whines. The female coywolf comes over and tears off one small front shoulder for herself. She knows that letting him have the majority of the hare will help him to stay strong. It will also reinforce his predatory instincts. She is hungry but even more hungry for her teenage pup to survive.
The young coywolf consumes the remaining hare in only a few minutes. He begins burying the bones and bloody pelt beneath the snow. These may come in useful if future hunting is unsuccessful. The mother coywolf praises the young by licking him around the neck. This, hopefully, assures success in future hunts by the pup. Without it he will perish.
The mother stops. Her ears become erect and she listens. She yips softly to get the attention of the pup and they run north side by side.
A human, snowshoeing nearby, has given them cause to be careful and they retreat into the cold, white woods. There is more hunting to be done, more food to be found. A harsh winter knows no mercy.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in January 2012