With the swift release of a cable, the metal box flips open with a hollow bang: The hounds are liberated. Like fish overlapping in a stream, they pour out of the truck. Muscles undulate like crude oil under velvet. They sweep across the prairie with sights locked on their prey, shrinking quickly into dots.
On any given day in the winter, just as a rim of orange light scrapes the horizon, custom-rigged trucks with these dogs inside radiate across the Great Plains. They bump along the prairie searching for coyotes.
Though they do it to reduce livestock loss, hunters always speak of the experience of seeing these dogs—some of the fastest on earth—streak across the plains. “I love the jumping, leaping, baying right out of the box. But mostly I am in it to see them run. I’d follow them anywhere they go,” hunter Todd Fritz said.
The culture of coyote coursing is the subject of a book written by Eric Eliason and photographed by Scott Squire, “To See Them Run.”
Eliason and Squire reveal a community that has grown around coyote coursing, complete with a dog auction every October in Loomis, Neb. Here the men and women are traditionalists. They seal business with a handshake instead of a receipt, and a good hunting story about a dog can fetch a higher price for its pup.
But coyote coursing and this way of life have come under fire by animal activists. The Humane Society condemned it as a “blood sport.” Although it has been banned in a few states like Colorado, step over the border into Utah and a hunter can collect a $50 bounty for a coyote scalp and jaw.
Hunters argue they are doing for free what the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division already pays for. In 2014, the USDA killed a total of 61,702 coyotes. Furthermore, hunters say the government’s methods, which includes poisonous gases and aerial sharpshooters, are not more humane.
Over the course of the project, Squire made a decision not to shoot photos of a coyote killing. “[Our] aim was not to be political, but to stand aside from the politics and just look at the culture,” he said. In the end, Squire says a coyote was never caught during any of the hunts that he went on.
But he still vividly recalls the moment when a hunter, Ted, confronted the authors as he suspected them of being undercover activists. “So, are you going to take pictures of a coyote eating…a calf as it’s getting born, chewing it right into the cow?” he asked. “I’ve seen that, but I bet it won’t be in your book with pictures of dogs tearing coyotes. What we do is no different; no, it’s better than what coyote packs do to each other when protecting their territory.”
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– The rural Ohio barn that is saving baby foals from dying
– Taming beasts: Famed National Geographic photographer talks critters
– Off the Grid: From abandoned ranch to Texas state park