Of Coyotes, chickens and skunks

Winter can get long here at the Graham Ranch, but my husband, Steve, and I know we have it pretty good. Life could be a lot worse.

I have a close, close personal friend – I’ll call her Elsa – who related this story. Elsa used to work on a remote ranch in Utah. Winters on Utah’s West Desert can get just as cold and windy as they get in Conrad. The wind howls until just the sound of it makes a person tired. The cold seeps through even multiple layers of insulated coveralls. Elsa was paid by the day when she worked on this remote ranch so besides being cold, often she was broke. While most ranchers stayed busy all year, few wanted to pay Elsa her full daily wage of $35 when the days yielded so few daylight hours.

So Elsa came up with a wintertime plan: She would train horses all winter by riding a coyote trap line, then sell both the well-broke horses and the coyote hides in the spring. Elsa had never actually trapped coyotes before, or skinned them either, but how hard could it be?

Elsa worked for a rancher who had raised about 50 broiler chickens that spring so at butchering time, Elsa saved the feathers and guts to use later on for coyote bait. When the crew finished with the chickens, Elsa discovered that she did not have a lid for the 55-gallon metal barrel that now contained her soon-to-be-fermented coyote bait so she found some baling wire, tied on a flat round piece of metal and set the barrel out of the way.

The summer went by. Elsa did not even think about her bait barrel until one Monday morning. Mondays were Auction Day, the one day each week that Elsa and the rancher drove 140 miles to town, purchased groceries and socialized.

Elsa was already dressed in her town clothes when she heard the dogs barking. She stepped outside to see all three dogs surrounding her bait barrel, barking, wagging their tails and jumping all around. Elsa stepped near enough to see heavy fumes rising from inside the barrel. A skunk had smelled the bait, jumped up on the barrel, flipped the lid and landed in fermenting chicken goo.

Elsa dashed inside, grabbed the shotgun, ran back out and stopped in her tracks. She pondered. How would she reach out, tip over the barrel, jump back, aim the shotgun and pull the trigger without steeping herself in skunk defense? More fumes rose out of the barrel, reminding her of the potent situation.

Fortunately, about then the other ranch hand stepped outside. Now Elsa had a team.

“Bob, go tip over that barrel so I can shoot the skunk.”

Bob tipped the barrel over.

The skunk waddled out, dazed.

Elsa aimed and pulled the trigger. Not a shell in the shotgun.

The dogs barked. The skunk squirted. Elsa and Bob jumped backward.

About then, the ranch owner walked outside, ready to go to town. Bob stayed home to clean up. The rancher and Elsa made it to town just in time for lunch at the local rancher- hangout. As the pair sat down, every other café customer hurried out the door. The lunch line disappeared, but so did the socializing.

Even worse, Elsa never did trap coyotes that winter.

Steve and I might get a few tractors stuck and we might be pelted by sleet and driving snow, but we have not cleared out the local café this winter– yet.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.

She has two children; Will, 12, and Abby, 4.

Adam O