Marking Your Territory

Coyotes make a point of knowing when visiting canids invade their range

By Rob Breeding

My pack of two bird-hunting English setters and I annoyed one of the Chukar Grounds’ full-time residents during a late season hunt last week. And that critter found a unique way to make its annoyance known.

Let me explain.

When we drive to a new spot, I always put out a water bowl for the dogs before we hunt. This way there’s always water waiting for them when we return. Often, they’ve watered up before I get back to the truck so we save a bit of time this way.

I’m a bit oblivious about picking up the water bowl, however, so it often gets left behind. That happened on this hunt, but I knew exactly where I left it, so we went straight there to retrieve it before we hunted the next day.

After a cold night, the remaining water had frozen solid, and right in the middle of the frozen disk resided a single link of Grade A coyote scat.

It’s easy enough to identify coyote poop. It looks much like dog droppings, though the caliber is a little smaller. Coyote scat also usually bares remnants of previous meals — bones, feathers and the like. Unless they’ve gotten into something they shouldn’t, dog poop is usually as indistinct as the kibble they eat.

Homogenous in, homogenous out.

The dogs and I are visitors to the Chukar Grounds. Coyotes, however, make their permanent living here. I see them out on the steep slopes that chukar favor on occasion, including this trip when I fired on a covey over a sharp point. After the shot, I saw a startled dog on a far slope trot out of the sagebrush and head over the nearest ridgeline.

I say startled because the coyote looked back as it ran. Usually they know you’re there long before they reveal themselves, but there was a fierce wind that must have covered the sound of our approach.

There aren’t any coyote packs on the Chukar Grounds; there just isn’t sufficient prey to feed a bunch of wild dogs. Rabbits and a small herd of mule deer populate the slopes, and there are sheep out on the flats. I suppose they occasionally stumble on a snack of chukar eggs during nesting season, but it otherwise seems a tough place to make a living.

In light of these tough surroundings, coyotes make a point of knowing when visiting canids invade their range. They use scat to send a message: keep out!

I’ve seen this form of coyote communication before. When I buried my bird dog, Jack, out on the Grounds, coyotes dug under the rocks covering the grave and left similar “presents” nearby. I added heavier rocks to dissuade their digging and left my own territorial marking, in the form of recycled beer, to the brush around Jack’s resting place — a technique I learned from the film “Never Cry Wolf.”

Whether they got my message or simply tired of excavating the grave, they never disturbed Jack again.

I’ve seen the results of similar territorial behavior in places where I’ve camped. When my setters are kenneled in the truck for the night, more than once I’ve found coyote scat just outside the door the following morning.

While the coyote’s message is intended for my dogs, it seems worth barely a sniff to them. Compared to the coyote’s hardscrabble lifestyle, my dogs lived a charmed life. They get to run hard all day long, hunting chukars they’d never catch without my marginally reliable shotgunning skills. They can afford to be a little oblivious.

While they may hunt with an intensity that suggests their lives depend on success, it clearly doesn’t.

At the end of the day, a bowl of food always awaits, a bowl that isn’t topped by any cryptic messages to get out.

Rob Breeding is the editor of

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