Surely I’m not the only person who hates full moons. Although beautiful to gaze upon, full moons provide all the light needed for animals to be up and about all night when they should be sleeping (so I can be sleeping). This includes grazing animals like sheep, deer and pronghorn, and all the things that eat grazing animals like coyote, bobcats, mountain lions, wolves, and bears (when not hibernating).
Last night was an example of my big moon problems – all was well, until I shot up in bed at 3 a.m., hearing the guard dog barking, realizing the sound was fading into the distance. That deep “woof, woof” was supposed to be booming under my bedroom window in the orphan lamb pen once known as my front yard, not fading as the dog ran away. Something was exciting enough that Rena fled the fenced yard and took off toward the river, about a mile from the house. I jumped in the truck and raced through the sagebrush, honking my horn to get her attention. I got her turned back toward the house and soon she was locked inside, lounging on the couch like this had been what she had meant to do all along. Jim and I stepped back out into the well-lit night and could hear what sounded like two other guard dogs barking from the river, about a mile from where our dogs should be with their sheep. We threw on longjohns and coveralls, grabbed a rifle, and headed for the sheep in the pickup, with the thermometer registering -18. We got to the sheep, and all was well there, but no guard dogs were present.
The New Fork River is now frozen, so it serves as a runway for predators and other animals. We drove a mile downriver and parked atop a cliff so I could call for the dogs. I could hear their frantic barks, but we couldn’t see them in the riverbottom. We warmed up in the truck and waited. Within a few minutes, I heard a gentle whine below the cliff, and soon Luv’s Girl came trotting up the trail. She jumped in the cab of the truck with us, but Rant was nowhere to be found. We sat in the truck with Luv’s Girl, getting out to holler for Rant every once in a while, but he never came. I could hear him bark every now and then, but he wouldn’t come to me. Once the moon dropped over the horizon about 4 a.m., Rant quit barking as it became very dark all the sudden.
We gave up on Rant, and took Luv’s Girl back to her sheep herd. By the time the alarm clock went off at 5 a.m., Jim was already on the couch watching news and drinking coffee. I crawled back into bed trying to convince myself I could sleep just a little longer, but it didn’t work. We ate breakfast and waited for daylight.
We didn’t find Rant for a few more hours into our next search. It seemed that everywhere we looked, we found coyote tracks as well as guard dog tracks. We didn’t cross the river to see what had happened, but could see through binoculars that some animal had been killed, and Rant was on guard next to the kill, keeping the birds away. It took some serious woo-ing to get Rant to leave his station and come the 1/2 mile to my call, but he finally did. We soon had him loaded up into my truck, and deposited safely back into his sheep herd.
The moon wasn’t even entirely full last night, but on nights when it is so bright, animals are really on the move. In the last two nights, I spotted a pack of three coyotes, a single coyote, and one black animal that I’m hoping like hell was a moose. I have no idea what prey animal was killed last night across the river, or what species did the killing. I do know that in hopes we’ll have a more restful sleep, tonight we’re going to go down to the cliffs above the river and fire off a few rounds, just to be noisy. Luv’s Girl hates the sound of guns, so that will keep her from traveling that direction, but we’re not sure about my hard-headed Rant. He knows he left a carcass, so if he wants to tangle with some coyotes tonight, he knows where to go.
You know, I wasn’t always like this – 25 years ago, I loved full moons. My soon-to-be-husband called them “lover’s moons” as we danced outside a honkey tonk on the wooden sidewalk, and camped on a mountainside without a tent. That was before we had duties, responsibilities, flocks to tend. That was before we knew what prowled in that shine emitted from the moon.
The photo above was taken this afternoon, once the two culprits were back in their sheep pasture. They spent part of the afternoon enjoying the sunshine next to the haystack.