LUSK – Coyote Days, a function that benefits ranchers, wildlife conservation and even the coyotes themselves from over-populating, is an event hosted here in Lusk by John Graham and his family in an effort to gather the best and highly seasoned experts in one place in hopes to educate and make aware the goals of predator management and its impact on the land and the communities.
Coyote Days and predator management
In the hopes of spreading awareness, two days of the community of trappers, skinners, hunters, traders and snare experts all gather. A wealth of knowledge from over 26 different states in any and all predator control and the proper procedures for handling equipment along with the materials needed to help curb excess numbers.
“Coyote days was designed as an avenue of getting information on how to harvest predators and coyotes, especially coyotes, out to the people interested,” Graham said. “We usually have 300-500 different people from 25 different states to learn from, from some of the individuals that I hand pick, to talk about topics that they are experts in, in that field. All the way from fur preparation to fur marketing, to how to trap a coyote, to how to skin a coyote. All of that can be learned in one place right here in Lusk on a two-day Event. We have two days of demos, each day which is twenty demos and people can come watch them in one-hour segments. Demonstrations or tutorials, on how to do various things. Now, if we combine those 20 to 22 people together, there would probably be somewhere I’m going to guess between 500-1,000 years’ worth of trapping experience between them. Some of them have personally been doing this for 65 to seventy years. We also have some younger people too, who are very influential in the industry as well, who also share and give some education. I’d say we have a good cross-section of information to anyone available, but more importantly it is a family event and people can and do bring their kids to it, and kind of pass on the tradition. For me, it is especially rewarding, because some of these people I only get to see literally once a year or maybe even once every several years. But I’ve known some of them for almost fifty years. Several people came from Michigan, where I grew up, to help. I also have friends here I met in my trapping business and career in the last 38 years, where I met a lot of people. A lot of people come to this event, they know each other, and they become friends too, so there’s a lot of rekindling with old friendships and old acquaintances, just good people all about getting the information out. It’s just been a good event for all of that and there’s people here selling products and different things but it’s for people to come and enjoy and learn something.”
The following is a list of those experts who John Graham had selected for this year’s Coyote Days event as demonstrators and who were considerate enough to give a presentation or demonstration for the community. Given their knowledge and sharing their advice was invaluable to this event. The names are as follows: Les Johnson, Dick Hane, Lee Steinmeyer, Todd Fairchild, Dan Hartman, Evan Anderson, Dale Greenough, Jim and J.D Arneson, Scott Huber, Justin Lemke, Chris McAllister, Roc Lee, Brad Troftgrubem, Boone Liane, Vern Howey, Colt Violet, Nick Smith, Mike Liane, Phil Brown, Bill Illchick and Joel Blakeslee. With a special thanks to Micheal Pappas, who guest spoke at the Banquet, as well as the Game and Fish commissioner, Richard Ladwig, and the singer of the Nation Anthem, Callie Taylor.
Meeting some of the experts
I spent a significant amount of both days at this event, getting to know a good number of people, making introductions, meeting the Graham family members, listening to the different demonstrations and educating myself on a vast array of knowledge they provide at Coyote Days. I am a bit reluctant to admit I knew little to nothing of Predator Management or what Coyote Days was even trying to teach or share when I first arrived, but everyone was warm and welcoming, eager to teach and greet with a strong handshake.
After the first couple of hours, I was drawn into a world I didn’t even realize was out there. Hard, humble and honest working people who spend their days making a living while helping to control a problem most might not even have known about. It isn’t something you see on the news often. If I was honest, these are jobs I myself, after spending two days learning about, found myself left with profound respect and honor for these people. What they do, is oftentimes thankless except for the farmers and cattlemen, and the industries have changed so much from what they were. I would go as far as to say, “unsung heroes” who do not go out there looking to be praised or even thanked, just go to do a job that needs doing. Does it pay, sure, but after hearing them, and learning more, I honestly think these people have pride and respect for this tradition.
The impact of a coyote or a predatory cat, on the wildlife or even cattle is enormous. A single coyote den can hunt and scatter the prey severely, having up to seven fawn remains in just a single day! There is a real problem out there, and regardless of what some people would like to turn a blind eye to, you cannot ignore the numbers. Predation, as the term is called, is definitely a numbers game. The facts do not lie, and these are the facts.
First and foremost, just like dogs, coyotes are subject to many diseases you may have heard of before, such as distemper, rabies, parvo, and even lice, fleas, and worms. These diseases are easily passed, not only to other game, but also to dogs that may be outside frequently, and then, people. Even further, considering the coyote population has vastly grown throughout the years, starvation has become a rising problem amongst the animals. With less food for them to eat, they start resorting towards any available game, making these diseases even more at risk of spreading.
Secondly, coyotes have resorted to eating game that us hunters love to hunt. Considering they are predators; in the animal kingdom they are looked at as hunters just like we are. Therefore, deer, turkeys, ducks, and rabbits are all in their chief source of nutrients, making our game populations on the decline if it does not get controlled. They also adapt quickly to their environment. Coyotes are not shy, making them easily adaptable in unknown environments. They will search to make ends meet for their sense of living, causing them to raid farms and homes to eat, making them even more important to control. No one wants to lose their family pet or livestock.
Finally, like any other species, they must be managed as well. Although coyotes are not considered native to all 50 states, they are surely making their way across the country and must be controlled.
Meeting some of the vendors
While at Coyote Days, I also spoke with some of the vendors, those in the industry who would share some of their wisdom and wares. They volunteered their time and information, and sometimes even a story or two. After all, this is a community of people, and many of them would even walk up to me, and greet me, not knowing who I was, just happy to see a fellow face. In the spirit of this, I decided to share a few of their stories. What makes this community so strong is a sense of family and friendship, it is in this spirit that I bring this together here.
Les Johnson was also a demonstration speaker but was set up early for his vendor along with his friend, and I was grateful to have a chance for an interview. He has been friends with John Graham for the better part of 20 years. He met John in Jordan, Montana and was a custom harvester. He is a very avid predator caller who has always said Hey to John whenever he was passing through. What kind of brought them together were their mutual acquaintances, then John got to know him, as he was doing these sorts of events and they would run into each other more. John asked him to come to this show after attending the Wyoming State Trapping Convention with him and his family. Then he started Coyote Days and that is where it all started with Les and John. He has a show called Predator Quest, started back in 2004, and he has been airing since 2006. He did take a couple of years for a break but has been airing it for fourteen years. This is his fourteenth season on television, and he’s put out close to three hundred tv episodes.
Something he’d like to say is that there are fewer and fewer trappers now, and fewer people out hunting predators. Without people hunting predators, the game numbers are going down because the predators are so hard on the game animals, the deer, the antelope, and all the other animals. A lot of people don’t see it, they drive the countryside, see an antelope and go, “oh, there’s an antelope” but they don’t realize how many animals die from the predators killing them every year and the predators are constantly after the animals. We manage it by constantly going after those predators, so that they can see those antelope more, the more animals you get to see. You’re going to see better quality deer, better quality antelope and more of them and that’s what we do.
What he’d hope to see is new interest in these events, a person who has never done it before to really get excited about it and want to start doing it. He teaches calling, which is harder. Predator calling is a huge fad, there’s a lot of people calling predators and the rush of calling in a predator is like nothing else. While the game seasons for deer and such are only a week or so long, predators you can hunt all fall, all winter and clear into spring while doing all the other animals a big favor and it benefits them. So, by getting more people involved in this, you are actually changing their whole lives and they become passionate about it because they know that they are helping the wildlife and other animals. It really is a much bigger circle than most think.
The biggest impact he thinks Covid had on the industry was ammunition and a shortage of it. He feels what it did was shut down the supply lines, and people were laid off of work. So, the people who never had a big supply of ammunition, didn’t get to go hunt like they normally would because they couldn’t just go to the store and go pick up a box of ammunition to do it. That was what stopped them from hunting. Getting outside was never really the issue, fresh air and nature were always there.
The best advice he could give for the green horns out there is go on YouTube and watch videos on the how-to of calling a predator or come to events like this where John has tons of demos and instructors between predator callings and trappings and some of these guys that come here are some of the best in the world yet nobody knows there name. That’s because the best doesn’t brag about who they are or what they do, they just go out and get it done. So, you’ve got trappers here that trap three hundred coyotes a season and no one’s going to know their names. These are the guys that have a wealth of knowledge with two days of demonstrations here, where gentlemen have so much to teach that the beginner trapper or caller can come here and take notes to learn more in two days than ten years on their own.
The most frustrating thing he finds in his time of trapping and calling is landowners not allowing him to access their land because they had a bad incident with someone else, but his team were not going to cause harm to their land or stay on their road. They were there to help their cattle, their sheep or other livestock. Yet the owners were so upset with other bad instances that they’ve had that they did not want him on his property. However typically, Les can talk to them for about a half hour and with his background they can come to understand he is different and is not there to cause harm and will respect the land and he feels that what is lost in these days. If you show them respect, a lot of times they will let you access their land and you can help them out.
He does say in all the times hunting and trapping, there was a frightening time, he could remember. As he’s shot more and more, without a suppressor, it causes a ringing in his ears. So when he is calling and looking in a particular direction and suddenly there is movement behind him, and about two feet away a coyote is standing right there that literally, he can wake up in bed at night, just sitting there thinking like what the heck happened that day. He gets spooked all the time calling because that animal is actually hunting you, and some people can forget that, so when you turn around and the animal is literally right there, it scares the living heck out of you. He’s called mountain lions, he’s called bears, he’s called everything in. So, when you are calling in a dangerous animal you never know what they can do. He does say the most surprising animal you wouldn’t guess to be the hardest predator to hunt would be a bear. A lot of people would want to bait, or they want to spot and stalk, he went to Alaska and had never called a black bear in his life. He used his voice to mimic a moose calf, and on his second set, he called in a nine-and-a-half-year-old female. He feels people misunderstand that they eat grass and berries, but that isn’t true. They love meat, because they are a predator, that’s what they are.
Nickie Schwartz is a return visitor to Coyote Days and traps for a living, having come to this event for three years now. It was her first time setting up a venue this time around and it was quite impressive. She is good friends with John Graham, and she uses different renewable furs for her wares.
“There’s so many people out there who can’t afford a full fur hat, they’re upwards of hundreds of dollars, so with these beanies and stuff, everybody loves them from grandmas to little girls, even men wear them. Just keeping up the tradition, we founded America on trapping,” Schwartz said. Her shop, known as Beanies & More, was very impressive in craftsmanship.
George Miller, from Michigan is a childhood friend of John’s and he is a retired trapper. He likes to come out, he looks forward to it all year. He’ll help out, stay the rest of the week and John’ll take him out coyote hunting. It’s a good time for them and he really enjoys it. He supports the Coyote Days due to being a trapper himself and all the guys John has brought anyone can learn so much from, are very knowledgeable and if you wanna learn how to do it, you do it here. He brought his wife this year, whereas last year he brought his son, both of whom enjoyed the event, and took them three days to get to.
Dave Grim, a local visitor had a story to share as well. They did a trial down in the University of Alabama a few years ago and they trapped a mated pair of coyotes. Before the pups were born, they put tracking collars on them both and they found where the den was. Putting two trail cameras on the den, they watched what was being brought to that den.In only thirty days, they brought in 28 fawn, that’s how many fawns those coyotes killed. When the fawns are being dropped, the coyotes switch the fawns, they know it’s that time of the year. There’s a lot more meat on a fawn than there is on a mouse or a rabbit. They brought those back to the den, just wanted to let you know.
Lee and Jim, fellow trappers from northeast Kansas, have been going to trapping conventions for years. Lee has been trapping since he was six or seven, it’s been his whole life. Jim as well, has been trapping since he was a little kid with mice in hog sheds and been going to conventions for the last fifteen years. They came to sell their wares as well as to do a Demonstration for John, having made their own tools for the trade as welders, for seven or eight years, to bring to this year’s event. Their pearls of wisdom for those new to the event is to take a kid trapping, they need to get away from computers and technology, and get out and keep this tradition alive.
Mike Wilhite, editor of Trapper’s Post, a nation-wide publication that is strictly trapping, all they deal with. He travels to different auctions internationally and is the fur market analyst for his magazine. He does have his own line of DVD’s and a few books. His tip is to get out here to Coyote Days, you won’t find a bigger group of the best coyote guys in the nation, this is it. If you want to know about coyote trapping, canine trapping, or cat trapping, this is it.
Todd Fairchild is a fur buyer from western Colorado, and this is his fourth year doing this for John. He does custom fur handling and builds custom fur handling equipment for all trappers, hunters, fur gatherers. He comes up here to do the fur handling demo for John but this year plans to change it up and do a fur grading demo and teach people what different grades and fur are. Everyone’s welcome to come out here and get education and information and get it done. It means a lot to me to keep people understanding how to get better at what they want to do. To be included on this list of people chosen is a big honor because there aren’t many of us left and to keep getting asked back and deal with this, with the quality of the people doing the demos, you can’t match this anywhere in the two days. He thinks this year will eclipse last year’s turn out and will keep getting bigger every year. They started with about three hundred and he figures it’ll be close to five hundred this year. Which is exponential, he believes, for a little town in the middle of Wyoming.
Colt Violet and Blake Coffman, of Colt Furs travel around the west, buying furs from trappers. They were invited to do a demo from John on fur handling. They brought tanned fur and other goods that they sell and to show, while promoting the industry. Starting mid-November to all throughout the winter they work hard, contributing to the community and this year marks their fifth year in it. Their advice for people who are new, is it’s never too late to get into trapping, you can always learn more. Find someone who has experience and learn from them, most are always willing to teach. Skinning 270 coyotes in a trailer in one day, after buying them was one of their more interesting days they could recall.
Dan Hartman, another expert who demonstrated for John at Coyote Days was kind enough to talk and share some wisdom, but he also had a unique bit of writing to pass on as well. With his permission he wrote a poem for the 2021 Coyote Days and has approved it to be shared. Here is that poem and we hope you all enjoy it:
“There’s a doin’s in Wyoming It comes but once a year.
A gathering of like minds, They come from far ‘n near.
A bunch of cagey coyote men, Share the little tricks they use,
To all their peers and young up comers, But you won’t read it in the news.
We’re the outcasts of the modern world, And we’ll own it with pure pride.
And also with some humble, Because God, our world provides.
They come together here at Lusk, To learn and also share.
They donate hard earned knowledge, Among trappers, this is rare.
There’s snaremen of the sagebrush, And trappers of the dirt
Coyote calling shooting SOBs, That teach all that they’re worth.
There’s the state and county trappers, And Government men of old.
These boys are the whole package. So best use the advice you’re told.
These ways are going fast my friends, We should cherish what is left.
Soon it will be all outlawed. Yes, even in the West.
I often wonder if the old Mountain Men, Of the early1800’s
Ever had an inkling, That their days and ways were numbered
Most don’t see the end, Until it’s far too late
They look back with cheerful memory, And they pine for yesterday.
So we gather here at Lusk, And while we differ in our ways.
We appreciate our brothers, Here at John Graham’s Coyote Days.”
To quote John at the Banquet, “Welcome to the third Coyote Days. First, I’d like to thank everybody who came, attended. All the demo givers, all the help, all the attendees, and everything. If I started thanking everyone by name it would take all night. This event is put on by a lot of good people, ok, and what I like the best about it is, I’m an idea guy and I find the right guys and I say we need to make this happen. I learned from one of the best. This is my way of doing stuff, my family’s way of doing stuff, and my friends’ way of doing stuff and I think it’s been a very successful Coyote Days again.”
His words could not be humbler or have been said any better. Thank you all for coming, as a community, as a friendship or as a family of people here to support one another. From Lusk and from us all, Happy Coyote Days and we hope you had a great time.