I see you, buddy! Devil’s Lake State Park has several packs (or families) of coyotes living within its borders. Like most animals people seem to be afraid of, they are rarely seen in “real life”. In fact, while I’ve caught good photos of coyotes elsewhere within Devil’s Lake, I’ve known of this family group living in the Steinke Basin for years and yet this is the first photo I’ve ever managed to catch. (About the quality of a Sasquatch photo at that!) That’s why I’ve come to call this family the “Ghost Troop”. This stealthy clan can be sometimes heard, but rarely are seen.
As I mentioned above, coyote “packs” are usually just family groups; Mom, dad and the kids.. not terrorizing packs of tricksters and hunters as people have imagined down through the ages. Coyotes can eat deer, rabbits, rodents, birds, amphibians, lizards, snakes and fish if they can catch em. They are intelligent survivors and predators. In fact, since 1861, the U.S. Government has spent over 30 million dollars and killed over half a million coyotes in an attempt to slow their population growth*, not to mention the endless hunting and poisoning by the general public. Still, their population remains stable and some say may still be growing. Pet owners within Devil’s lake need to respect their existence as they would any other wild predator. Just another reason to keep your pets attended and on-leash at all times.**
For the over 20 years that I’ve hiked at Devil’s Lake, I’ve heard the Steinke Basin “pack” many times, but only spotted one once before and it was clearly intentional. A few years back when walking my own dog, one of the Ghost Troop pack walk out onto the trail about 30 yards ahead of us and stopped. It simply watched us as we approached. I continued to walk with my dog (I’m not worried or afraid of coyotes..) until we closed the distance by 10 yards or so then stopped. My pup and the coyote looked at each other for a few more seconds and then the coyote slowly wandered back into the woods. We walked on. Later on that same hike, near the top of the bluff, the coyote came right out of the woods again, this time less than 10 yards away! This sudden “face to face” surprised both me and my dog. Still, she never growled or barked at the coyote standing right in front of us. The coyote held its position in front of us for only a few seconds before sauntering off and disappearing again into the forest. Had he been pacing us the whole way from the shelter of the forest? Amazing encounter!
The reality in Devil’s Lake State Park is that if you get to hear one of our coyote families yipping and howling in the distance, or if by chance you actually see one, you should count yourself lucky. If you happen upon a member of the Steinke Basin Ghost Troop, consider yourself very lucky indeed!