By Brad Troftgruben

My long time calling teammate Jim Benson and myself awoke and wiped the long sleep from our eyes. We instantly both looked at each other and smiled. We smiled because unlike ten hours ago when we called it a night, the wind was no longer shaking the windows in our motel room. The forecast had been for a cold front to move in and stay for the next few days, it was not a normal cold front but an extreme cold front! The forecast for the day was little to no wind and a low of 44 below zero!

We both had big grins on our face as we put on our clothes for breakfast. We stumbled out of the motel to make the short walk across the street to the diner in "the middle of nowhere, Montana" and had the breath sucked from our lungs by the cold air. These were the sensations that only the few crazy, die hard predator callers in this world actually like. The only reason anyone would like the feeling of your lungs slowly freezing from the inside out is because a predator caller knows that it also means that the coyotes are very hard up for dinner. That means a day out of the dreams of anyone that chases fur like myself. We swallowed our breakfast without chewing most of it like we were in an eating contest. But this was because we were so excited to get out into the vast land of white hills and brush choked ravines that were as we were told, "still plum full of coyotes". The locals coming in for their morning coffee looked at us like we were a side show (besides the ones that remembered us from last year). Slamming down the french toast and giggling like two kids in a cafeteria snickering over a dirty joke, we paid the check and got the truck loaded up.

The first spot of the morning had on us on a bare knob without cover, but good camouflage was able to keep us hidden in the few rocks and small sage that was present. Four minutes into the stand I had a coyote at 600 yards held up on the hilltop! I couldn't believe with the temperature that the song dog was blazing through the snow on a dead run towards me. He took his time coming to a hill 200 yards closer only to sit down again. Finally, he made the move to come down the hill and I figured that he was committed. All the time not knowing that Jim had one coming on his side that was having trouble in the deep snow in the CRP. My coyote reached the bottom of the draw and decided that it wasn't worth the trouble to get to me. I found this hard to believe. He did this multiple times only to go back up the hill and sit down to watch over everything. The coyote had spent 10 minutes making fruitless tries at getting across the deep snow and I was starting to feel the sting of 44 below temps. I could not see Jim to know that his coyote was still trying to make it across the CRP and my patience in the extreme cold just couldn't take anymore. I got my breathing controlled and took a guess at the yardage. I don't boast being a very good shot so I knew I was wishing on a star with this one. I raised what I thought to be nine inches over the coyote's head and tried to squeeze the trigger. I knew something was wrong when I touched the trigger and felt a sting! The cold metal was giving my trigger finger a good deal of frostbite just as the gun went off. The coyote ran 20 yards, just long enough for me to send a hail mary shot just in case the first one didn't make its mark and crumpled into the deep snow. To my amazement, the first shot had hit the coyote right in the boiler room. I was going to start bragging about the shot when I heard Jim letting the .223 fly. I found out later about his coyote that was coming in. When I retrieved the coyote I found out why he was so weary about crossing the deep snow. He was missing a back leg all the way up at the hip. There was no battle wounds or infested sores. It almost (even though I find it very hard to believe) looked as though the coyote was born without one of his back legs.

The next stand had us on a ranch that has been real good to us producing coyotes the last two times we had set up. We crept out to the knob we have learned is the best spot to call the area and got ready. Jim started letting out the most pitiful jackrabbit screams and I told myself if there is any coyotes out in the large snow covered bowl they're coming. I immediately spotted a coyote sitting on a large knob in the center of the bowl. I tucked the gun into my shoulder and got ready for the excitement. The coyote however wasn't coming at a sprint like we had imagined. The coyote sat like a stone for five minutes and I was starting to get very frustrated. Then suddenly, I noticed another pair of coyotes headed for the knob and a single coming from the other direction headed for the same location! Jim kept sending out those pitiful "dying rabbit blues" and the coyotes all licked and sniffed each other and got acquainted. However, we had been calling for 20 minutes and the coyotes were still at 500yds and not coming any closer. The arctic air was starting to find its way into every small crack in my hunting outfit and the hand warmer bags were starting to lose heat in a hurry. I started to wonder if all the wheels were spinning upstairs. Here I am lying out in the snow in 44 below temps, chasing fur that was hardly worth a can of Copenhagen anymore. Finally, two of the coyotes started down the knob and were coming like they were on a string and I remembered why I was out there. When they got to 300 yards, they lost interest and started back for the knob. That was the straw that broke the camels back. Right then and there I made the decision that at least one of those coyotes was going to end up in the truck no matter how long it took. I started to let out a few howls to see if I could get the Alpha male to come and play. Jim was still working the call as I mixed in some challenge howls and ki-yi's. I was hoping this would give the pack a little confidence that a coyote had something that it couldn't handle by itself. A magpie flew in and I noticed a coyote coming from the down wind side but a long ways out. The pack of coyotes (in my theory) either seen the other coyote coming or the magpie, and it was enough to close the deal. Two coyotes started coming in at a trot and the rest came slowly behind. The coyote coming from the downwind side caught our wind at 300 yards and bugged out but the pack was still coming as if being reeled in. The two leaders (most likely the Alpha pair) broke the 200-yard mark and I knew that it was looking good. They had us picked out but the Snow Ghost camo that I was wearing kept them from picking me out and made the difference to get them in that last hundred yards. At that point the coyotes were in the place that I had already determined as my kill zone. I gave a single bark and centered the crosshairs on the large male. My already raw trigger finger took more abuse when it touched the metal trigger and I knew that the frostbite was set and I was going to be in pain after the excitement. The crack of my rifle was followed by the report of Jims rifle anchoring the female 10 yards behind the male marking number two and three for the trip. The rest of the pack had heard enough and headed for the next section line as fast as their cold legs would carry them. We collected the nice pale, white-bellied canines and headed for the truck and the warmth that it offered. While taking pictures I noticed that I had developed a large blister on my trigger finger that had to be tended to later.

We hunted for two and a half more days and were able to collect a total of 14 nice pale Montana coyotes. This ranked second highest in three years of hunting in Montana. The extreme temperatures that the upper Midwest bring can be very dangerous if you don't watch what your doing. If you wake up and the thermometer tells you to stay home, by all means stay home. But just remember, that I will be out there, with tape covering my blistered trigger finger, shooting the coyotes that just can't resist the sound of a warm rabbit dinner in this cold barren tundra we call home.