The Lamb Killer
The phone jarred me from a deep sleep. As Doc’s voice boomed loud and clear, “He killed another lamb last night,” a year of frustration trying to trap a lamb killer began. For a time I was not sure what I was trying to trap, but as I examined more and more dead lambs, I was almost positive I knew.Doc is a veterinarian and part-time farmer. He keeps about three hundred sheep, most of them ewes with lambs. I went to see Doc because a friend told him I would be the man to trap his lamb killer. I had a fair reputation as a trapper in this part of the country, but I was puzzled when Doc told me he thought it was a coyote. Central Indiana, with lots of suburban living, was not what you would call coyote country. I agreed to trap the varmint, whatever it was. Doc showed me the entire farm and said I could have the run of the place. He explained that the culprit had been killing sheep for two years. Doc said he didn’t get suspicious until this year. He knew that ewes came in without lambs, but he thought maybe they had not been bred. Then he started finding the dead lambs with their throats eaten out. Doc said he would pay thirty-five dollars bounty.
I had never trapped a coyote nor seen one in Indiana before, but I had heard a few tales about them in other counties. If this was a coyote, I wanted to catch it since I have trapped every other fur-bearing animal in Indiana. Doc told me that other trappers and hunters had tried to get the killer, but with no luck.
I roamed the wooded draws and open pastures of the sheep farm, finding only coon, fox and a few dog tracks. During late summer tracks were hard to find, since the sheep tramped down everything.
Two days later came the phone call I mentioned earlier. Working second shift at a local factory leaves my mornings free and I wasted no time getting to Doc’s place. He showed me the dead lamb, right behind his veterinary clinic. Inspecting the pasture carefully, I found tracks leading west towards the wooded part of the farm. Closer investigation led me to a hole in the fence with hair and fresh tracks. A No. 4 double long spring was set. It was a clean trap and I used rubber gloves. Dry dirt and bits of grass were used for covering. If a varmint came back through that hole, he was in for a shock. Next morning found me back at daylight. The trap was gone.
The trap had a six foot chain with hook so I knew it would not be far away. After a look around, a coon was found in the trap. Carefully I reset the trap. Next morning I had another coon. In fact, a coon was caught five days in a row. I pulled the trap but was still convinced that the killer had used that hole because the tracks matched the ones at the kill.
Three weeks passed and the killer never showed, so Doc put the sheep in the south pasture. This pasture was large and wooded. After a few days Doc called. “My friend is back again. Can you come over and take a look?” Doc was disgusted and I couldn’t blame him. We found two dead lambs and my nose told me there were more in the woods some place. Looking over the fence I found three holes where the killer could be coming in. Three traps were set. The devil continued to kill every few days, but he never came near my traps. Deciding it was very trap shy, I ruled out the possibility of a dog. Friends told me it was just a smart German Shepherd. The tracks were neat prints about like a fox, only twice as big. These tracks matched the ones at the first kill. Coyotes being rare in Indiana, I was not familiar with their pads.
One morning, after finding my traps empty, I decided to do a little squirrel hunting. The season had just come in and I hadn’t bagged any squirrels yet. Hickory trees were everywhere and I expected to sight squirrels any time. A noise to my right, in a thick stand of trees, made me slip close for a look. Four sheep were grazing on low bushes. About to turn back to the road, a movement on the hill stopped me.
There stood a coyote as wild and free as the wind. There was no doubt in my mind, it was a coyote. I had seen coyotes in Texas and Wisconsin. The coyotes charged down the hill into the sheep. The sheep scattered in panic, with the coyote in hot pursuit. One lamb ran right toward me and this was the one the coyote singled out. I was only carrying a .22 revolver because this is all I use for squirrel hunting. When the small wolf was six feet away and closing in fast, I let go two shots. Like most people, I am not too accurate with a handgun on fast moving targets but you never saw a coyote with a more shocked expression. Missed clean, he was into the underbrush fast as a weasel.
To laugh or cry was the question. An opportunity to collect thirty-five dollars was missed but on the other hand the killer had been identified.
The coyote didn’t return the next few weeks, so this gave me time to do some research on coyote habits and methods of trapping. I dug out old issues of Fur-Fish-Game and read the coyote stories. Trapping methods seemed to be similar to fox trapping, only taking longer and requiring more scouting around. The dirt hole set seemed to be the most popular set, using bait and urine.
Doc moved the sheep to the west pasture. Everything went fine for a week, and then the killer came back. He killed a lamb and ate the throat and shoulder. I inspected the damage the next morning. All the fences were run again and traps set in all holes and jumps. As before the sly varmint continued to kill once or twice a week. Some coyote urine was ordered, and when it arrived a dirt hole set was placed on a high ridge leading to the sheep pasture. Coyote urine was placed in a hole above the trap. The coyote traveled this ridge, because tracks had been seen leading this way. Two days passed without any action, but the third morning the trap was gone. My heart started to pound. A faint trail was followed to the west into some thick bushes. Trap chain rattle could be heard in the thick growth to my right. A grey fox was in the trap, mad as a buzz saw. What a letdown this was to me. At that point I was one sad trapper.
The coyote seemed to disappear in the fall and early winter. In fact, Doc didn’t have any more kills all winter, except for an occasional dog kill. Hope was slim of trapping the coyote.
Spring came and the lambing started. The killer had started also. Doc was on the phone. “Our friend is back. Would you like to try him again? I will increase the bounty to fifty dollars.” I was over to Doc’s farm in twenty minutes. The ground was wet and the coyote was tracked back to the same hole in the fence where the coons had been caught. A trap was set in the hole. But I knew he would not step there again. Three weeks passed before the next killing. This time the tracks led to a hole two hundred yards to the north.
Doc had doubts about my talent as a trapper at this point and who could blame him? I had to come up with a new idea. Snaring the coyote was considered, but I had my doubts. The next night the devil killed again, so my wire snares were brought to use. The snares were put in the fence holes that the coyote had been using. These snares have a lock device so they tighten only. They were wired to the fence above the holes and the loop hung where the coyote had been jumping. We found one place, where the devil had crawled under the fence in a low wet marsh, about fifty yards from the last kill. A snare was hung there, just in case he came back again, which he had never done before. The next night the coyote jumped a low place in the fence on the south line and dragged off the remains of the old kill.
Doc suggested we tie a live lamb out for bait. Ready to try anything I agreed. We put a dog collar on a small lamb and tied it short to a cement block. Five traps were placed around the lamb with the greatest of care.
Doc called just after daylight the next morning. The coyote was caught! A speed record was set for getting to Doc’s place. I was sure the coyote was in one o f the traps around the live lamb, but it was in the snare in the low wet marsh. Doc had shot the coyote before I arrived, but I could see the devil tangled in the fence. The snare held him by one back leg, just above the foot. He had almost gotten away. Doc was so happy, he could hardly talk. The varmint was skinned so he could have a rug made and he paid me my fifty dollars. “Now I can sleep in peace and not worry about the sheep.”
I was not so sure, because the coyote was a female and her breasts were full of milk. I didn't tell Doc, but I hoped her young survived to roam the Indiana woodlands. Nevertheless I was sure going to miss the challenge of the lamb killer.
Pictured at top is Doc, on left, and author Russell Porter in 1972 with the lamb killer. Photo contributed.