The Red Rock Hounds is a group in northern Nevada that employs unique tactics in dealing with troublesome coyotes in rural areas. Our reporter Sarah Parks joined the group on an early Sunday morning to learn more about the hunt.
A horn blares out in the early morning and more than twenty black and brown spotted hounds bellow in response. Half a dozen horses and riders fall in with the howling dogs, weaving through the tall sagebrush in Rancho Haven, a small community 45 minutes north of Reno. It’s the beginning of what’s called a fox hunt.
"We do call it fox hunting even though we're chasing coyote, but you know, it's just the history of the whole thing,"says Lynn Lloyd, the founder of Red Rock Hounds, which travels across the state. The so-called fox hunt is a tradition founded in England that has spread and evolved all over the world, including Nevada.
"By us chasing the coyotes around here, it puts the scare in them, and I think that really helps the neighbors. We need to do this," says Lloyd.
Carol O'Brien, a resident in the Red Rock area, agrees that the coyotes can be a problem when they prey on domestic animals. O’Brien actually had a personal experience with them when a pack came onto her 12-acre property while she was outside with her animals.
“We were out doing yard work, and that day the coyotes came out of the bushes, the horse corral and the driveway and they were barking from different areas, there were a couple of them. And they started baiting the dogs out almost, calling them out,” says O'Brien.
Before she could gather her animals up, the coyotes had taken off with one of her pups. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.
Because coyotes are listed as an unprotected species by Nevada state law, there are not many legal forms of coyote management. Chris Healy with the Nevada Department of Wildlife says that coyotes are not actually classified as wildlife, so NDOW is limited in what it can do.
“For the most part, remember the coyotes can be a real challenge to people who own small livestock and young livestock," says Healy. "They can also be a challenge to people who manage wildlife, like us.”
Lynn Lloyd and the Red Rock Hounds act as one form of legal management for this species. They do not kill the coyotes, but make them weary of people and domestic areas. They also help to manage Nevada’s open space by maintaining fences and reporting illegal trash dumping to the game warden.
Every fall through spring, Lloyd and up to twenty other riders go out to different rural locations and release the dogs for the hunt. The whole procession is directed by the Field Master, the only one allowed to blow the horn.
Although this may seem a little extreme, Lloyd says that it helps keep the coyotes out of trouble and that they even have some fun with it.
"They're cheeky, they're so wonderfully cheeky. They're fun to chase, they really are, they give you good sport. If we're out there hunting sometimes they'll sit on a rock and bark at us," says Lloyd.
Dianne Karp, a 14-year-member of the Red Rock Hounds, agrees, recounting one of many stories in which the coyotes led the hounds on a wild chase.
“They will sit there and we hear 'yip-yip-yip' 'yip-yip-yip' and it's a coyote over on the other side, yelling for us to come," says Karp. "When he saw the hounds he stood up and he ran just fast enough to stay in front of the lead hound for about three miles and then he put on the afterburners and left."
After running hard for about an hour, Lloyd takes her dogs to a nearby pond, letting them cool down and get a drink.
Lloyd owns more than 100 hounds and has trained them since they were pups. She knows each of her dogs by the spots on their backs and can call them all by name. She has been doing this for the last 40 years of her life and plans to continue as long as she can.
"The most fun I think about hunting in general, whether gun hunting or what we're doing, is being with nature. Because you get more educated about the animals and about the country and that is so important and we're losing that in the world," says Lloyd.
The Red Rock Hounds was founded in 1980 and every year continues to fox hunt Nevada style.