"The Old Man on the Prairie"
By: Bill Mathena (B&B Trapping)
One day I had this title on my computer screen, when I first started this story, and someone asked me “who is the old man”. Well at the end of this short story you will know who this old man is.
My first encounter with the old man was on a warm summer night. Though I didn’t see him I know today it was him by his old crackly voice, and the way his voice echo threw the old oaks, and walnuts in the night calm. I had just finished feeding the calves at 10:00pm after a long hot day, like a normal Southern Illinois summer goes, and was listening to Interstate 57 in the distant hoping I could hear over the sound the sound of a ol’hoot owl. Then I heard him, his voice shot out like a cannon ringing threw the air. After that day I knew I had to find this thing that had put such a fire in my heart. Though I knew it would of just been another coyote, this coyote was different he was old and had been roaming the same prairie I farmed, and trapped since I could remember.
Later that winter, I was running a coon line long the strip of creek that flowed gently along little prairie and then threw the big timber of the north woods of our property. See that is the beauty of trapping, hunting ,and farming down in southern Illinois. You go from the flat big skied prairies, to the rolling hills of where the glacier once roamed across the state, to the big timber of white oaks, ash, and hickory. Well anyways now that I have bored you with my rabble I digress.
So I had just come to the end of the line and was coming up out of the creek to the empty corn field on little prairie covered by a blanket of snow. Then as I came to the edge of the field I looked up to the west in the direction of the tractor crossing about 400 yards away, and I saw the old man come up out of the crossing and was heading straight for me. All I had with me was my old savage mark II 22 long rifle. At his current course he would have been just at the right range for me to take a shot. So I slowly crept back into the thin weeds, which wasn’t much camo to hide me. As he came in at about 75 yards he spotted me, for he was wise in his old age, he quickly turned and started towards the north. I popped up to make at a shot, as he was trotting faster now, the 22 fired off across the field, and the snow flew up just above him and to the rear. Now he was at full steam and shot to the north and around the bend. I was hot on his trail, with the fresh snow it wasn’t hard. I fallowed him back across the creek and into the hay field. The field was covered with brome grass, and was like a red sea of grass. I could see in the grass a perfect trail left by him. See the snow had stuck to the grass and as he walked threw it left a trail of clean grass. The trail zigzagged around the hay field till I came to a point where it stopped. I stood there wondering what I should do next? Did I lose the trail? Was he about to come at me? Many questions ran threw my mind. Then I guess my mind had decided for me because I stepped forward into the grass, like a diver about to step into the black water, not knowing what lay ahead. Then quick as a flash a group of deer to my right jumped up and off towards the woods to the south, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the grass in front of me begin to divide and was heading to the east towards the highway. I knew I was back on the trail! I fallowed him back to the north where he went into the creek. This is a trick coyotes will do when being chased. They head way out of their way to try to lose you then circle back, and use the creek to slow you down so they could get some ground from you. As I fallowed his trail threw the creek and back out to the corn field. Then he came to the another field we owned to the north. I looked out across the large open field and could not see a sign of him. I knew that all hope was lost in my chase of the old man.
I would set many traps trying to catch him, but he was always to smart for me. You know if I did catch this old man or find him someday with in shooting range again I don’t think I would pull the trigger. I would stand up and give a big yell and tell him “To get out of dodge before I changed my mind about it”. Then he would run across the field like he did that one day, or he might just stand there, and we stand admiring and remembering the chase. As much as I despise coyotes, this one I wish a long life and dies a quick death, and not at the end of a gun.
So now you know who the old man on the prairie is, and why I had to write this story about him so that his story is never forgotten. I could write more about his voice and the sound it made, and the way it made me feel when I would hear it, but this short story would become a long story.
Thank you for the time and good night.
Fight with your dipstick Jimmy!