After all, we're in serious wildlife mode here in southwestern South Dakota, where Route 87 winds through Wind Cave National Park and then, without hesitation, right through Custer State Park. We're scoping for buffalo (saw one, then a herd), mule deer (saw lots), prairie dogs (saw megalots), white tailed deer (saw two) and pronghorn deer (wait for the story).
The first animals we see are these two coyotes, on the side of a little rolling hill. Just over the hill, we see four pronghorn deer, one of which is crossing the road. I take a picture.
So we wait. While he crosses.
That's when we see the third coyote, stretched low in the grass, slinking toward the three other deer. He crawls through the grass, like a snake. Then, he slowly raises himself to full height and
saunters over near the deer. They see him. And move slowly away. Sideways.
He lowers himself again, and trots toward the lead deer, forcing the threesome to move uphill a bit.
WOW! I get it. It's a hunt. We're seeing a hunt.
Coyote No. 3 kicks into gear and works the deer by running back and forth in front of them, much like a Border Collie works a herd of sheep. Coyotes No. 1 and 2 (the ones I shrugged off earlier) hide just past the crest of the hill. I can see their ears. They are laying in
wait. Ready for the ambush!
In the picture above, you can easily see the three deer and Coyote No. 1. Now, glance up from the third deer on the right to the top of the first ridge, then just a little to the right and THERE! See him? It's Coyote No. 2. Ready to Pounce. Coyote No. 1 is up there, too. He's just harder to see. But he's to the right of No. 2.
We watch the adventure unfold for 10 minutes; no one else stops. Oh, they hesitate to see what we're looking at, but none seemed interested. Or perhaps they just didn't know it's a hunt. An honest-to-goodness National Geographic hunt! Or, for the older crowd, A Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom moment.
Now wait. The action subsides. No. 3 is giving up. He's slinking off to the right. Nos. 1 and 2 follow. There is no kill (and I'm kinda happy about THAT!).
Here's what we think happened: No. 3 was the front man, sent out to test the deers' sturdiness, to see if anyone was lame or sick. When all proved strong and well, the trio of hunters gave up, and set off to find breakfast elsewhere.