The look pasted upon both of our faces was nearly identical. The appearance of comfortable contentment was, in a flash, replaced with mild panic. And the cause of the transition between the two states should have been obvious and expected, as clues had been present all throughout the trip. Cold.
Scott and I had planned a day trip on the east side of the mountains, intent upon chasing coyotes and getting some time outdoors. At 4AM, the temperature at our homes in the valley was a balmy twenty-six degrees. Signs of a reduction in this number were evident even as we climbed out of Oakridge and continued up the Willamette Pass. Small snow drifts bordering the road soon gave way to packed snow on the road and occasional patches of ice.
As we turned onto the Cascade Lakes Highway, even more insidious signs presented. The temperature inside the truck began to take a noticeable dive. The afterburner-like blast from the heater slowly began to reduce in intensity until only lukewarm air trickled out. Unsure if the problem was outside temperature or a mechanical failure, we proceeded on.
But as we headed south through Fort Rock, the most obvious sign emerged. Ice. And it was not found in its standard presentations, covering the roadway or obscuring my vision on the exterior of the windshield. Rather, ice formed an opaque sheet across the inside of the driver and passenger windows. “Pass me the scraper,” Scott said.
We reached Silver Lake as the sun was fully up. The roads were covered with a skiff of dry, powdery snow and the surrounding hills were a mix of snow-covered sage and Ponderosa pines. Pulling to a stop, we both jumped out to ready our equipment for the day’s hunt. It was then we were both stopped in our tracks. Cold. The mid-twenties of the valley had surrendered to obviously below zero temps. Moments in the Silver Lake air caused painful fingers and full body shivering. Clearly, more clothing would be the order of the day.
The plan of action for the day would involve first driving a sixteen mile stretch of roadway. This reconnaissance would provide us information in the way of tracks. Upon finding areas containing fresh sign, we would pack from the roadway out to a spot from which we would be able to visually cover a good amount of property. A series of calling and some time in waiting would reveal whether the given location would produce potential targets.
The roadway was littered with myriad fresh animal tracks. In the powdery snow, they were easily read. Deer, snowshoe hare, chipmunk, elk, cattle, and ample amounts of coyote tracks were observed winding zig-zag patterns across the snow covered blacktop.
Scott and I hiked through the foot deep snow to our first blind location. After clearing a bit of snow from the ground and hunkering down against a scrubby Juniper tree, I began a series of calling. While an electronic call would be more suited to my skill level (or lack thereof), I had settled on a mouth call which mimicked the dying screams of an injured rabbit.
A word on predator calls in general and dying rabbit calls in particular: They are the most horrible noise you will likely ever hear in all of your life. While it is explained the calls evoke a predatory response in carnivores, I would submit it is equally as likely anything hearing this call would come in just to stomp its source flat. They are simply awful on the ears.
The plan was simple. Scott and I sat facing opposite directions, covering as much area with our eyes and guns as possible. I was using a Remington M700 Police in .308 Winchester. Topped with a Leupold Mark IV scope and loaded with Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition, this combo was better suited for longer shots taken from a seated or kneeling position. In addition to his Winchester Featherweight in .270 Winchester, Scott also had a short-barreled Mossberg 500 in 12-gauge handy. Coyotes and other predators are famous for sneaking in very close to the calling location. The scattergun would, hopefully, be the right tool for this scenario.
The first calling sequence came and went without tangible results. After a half-hour of calling, we decided to vacate the spot and try another. The sun had risen high into the central Oregon sky and, as such, comfortable temps were now enjoyed.
The second calling location presented as the first. Another half-hour calling sequence came and went without any appearance by Wiley and company.
After a third repeat of the first two performances, both Scott and I were ready for a heated truck and a warm meal. Luckily, a short drive out of the hunt area was all the more effort needed for a great meal at the Silver Lake Cafe. With a double cheeseburger in my belly and a four hour drive ahead, Scott and I loaded our gear and headed west back over the mountain.
Failing to connect (in the ballistic sense) with a coyote or two in no way diminished the trip. In reality, neither of us really expected success in this regard. Trips like this often serve as a tool of decompression and any time spent outside is a blessing. Perhaps next time will yield the added bonus of a pelt or two.