Jeff Gates and one of his dogs, who experienced a serious threat from coyotes near Sisters. photo provided
Jeff Gates and one of his dogs, who experienced a serious threat from coyotes near Sisters. photo provided
Last Friday I met up with my riding buddy and true Vaquero horseman Jeff Gates at another friend’s ranch off of Dusty Loop Road in Tumalo. I had recently purchased an old Hamley saddle that my legendary cowboy/logger friend Steve Bennett used at his family ranch in French Glen, Oregon.

Jeff brought his two horses, Concho and Slick. We switched a couple straps around, adjusted the stirrups, added an additional pad, and my new-old saddle fit Slick perfectly. I had ridden this tall and lanky grey horse a couple of other times, and I felt like we had a good bond. So no worries, and off we went for a casual short ride to check out the feel of the saddle and have a good trail conversation with my riding pal Jeff. This was a well-traveled trail that was easy to ride side by side to enjoy the rocky sage and juniper terrain.

Jeff brought his two border collies with him, as always. Jesse is an older gal and has been by Jeff’s side for many years. Sonny is a little over a year and a half old and very well trained for her younger years and is trail-savvy already. Both are black tri, and a joy to be with. The third dog was named Blue. He lived at the ranch and decided to join us for the ride. Blue is a beautiful full-grown blue merle Aussie shepherd, and looked like he could handle himself in most any situation.

A couple of miles into the ride Jeff mentioned that we may see a coyote or two out here because they are getting their pups out and about this time of year. No big deal!

About 10 seconds later I see a flash of movement to my left. It was the young border collie, Sonny, running for her life with an athletic full-grown coyote about 15 feet behind her, and both running like thoroughbreds.

Having grown up on the back of a horse and knowing that things can change in an instant, Slick and I immediately were at a run to get between Sonny and the coyote — with good speed and as loud a yell as I could muster. The coyote veered off as Jeff was calling Sonny in. Then I saw two more coyotes. Just then Blue went after them as they were trying to lead him away from us and into the hills. With Slick’s speed and sure footing we headed straight for the coyotes and Blue responded to Jeff’s call just in time for us to get in between them before they could get their teeth into Blue. Then Sonny went after them and Blue followed again.

Jeff had managed to scare off two of the coyotes, but the one I had been dealing with kept coming in, then running up the hill to bait the dogs. He would not give up!! In the next instant, Slick and I had to run up into the rocks and avoid being swiped out of the saddle by a juniper branch.

Thank God the dogs turned and responded to Jeff’s call. As they turned back I was about 15 feet away from and looking eye to eye at the largest and most tenacious coyote I have ever encountered. He just stood his ground and was barking and yelping at me for about five or 10 seconds then started circling away from me again. In that moment in time, I was looking at a magnificent animal in his silver grey, tan and reddish coat, just doing his thing as a hunter and trickster very, very well. All that aside, this was a dangerous situation for us all.

As I got back to Jeff he had wrangled the dogs and we were able to tie a rope to all three to keep them together. So I tied the dogs to my belt loop and held onto the two horses as Jeff had his .45 revolver in hand to go send a clear message to the last, persistent coyote.

About 50 yards away he saw him in the distance and fired a single shot near him and then he ducked into the woods.

I thought about those other two coyotes, and realized if they came up behind us, this situation could really get ugly. Not a minute later though, Jeff was back. We then decided to head back to the ranch and hopefully avoid another attack.

So, Jeff mounted up on Concho and ponied Slick by his side, while I walked with the three dogs on a rope to keep them from taking chase if the coyotes tried to entice them again. Once we got about a mile back toward the ranch I got back on Slick and we let Jesse and Sonny off the rope, and kept Blue on, until he saw the ranch and knew he was home safe.

I can tell you that with Jeff’s preparedness by having that 12 feet of rope in his saddlebag and a holster with gun attached to his saddle saved our bacon. I don’t know how we would have maintained control of the dogs without the rope, and it seems that only a gunshot was going to be able to dissuade the persistent coyotes from continuing their attack. With loose dogs, I think the coyotes would not have given up until they took one down.

On this Rodeo weekend and throughout the summer, be prepared, and be safe in the woods whether you are on horseback, or just doing a nice casual stroll. Coyotes are everywhere, and we are in their country.

And, by the way, my new-old saddle kept me on top of Slick in a bit of a rodeo. I can’t thank that big beautiful horse enough!