By: Randy Tucker
Dashing through deep, powdery snow on a high-powered snow machine at 60 miles an hour with trees flashing by like delineator posts on a highway in search of predators isn’t exactly the life we typically envision for a government hunter and trapper. But it’s not far off.
Cory Lambert, as played by actor Jeremy Renner, is the central character, and some would say “hero” in the film Wind River (2017). Lambert is a professional hunter in search of nuisance predators. As he relates in one scene, these animals include coyotes, cougars, bobcats, and bears.
The life of an actual predator control agent, as they are sometimes called, is a bit different from what the movie depicts, as they try to work in a niche career between competing state and federal agencies and the private sector in a political landscape that is in constant upheaval.
Ken Metzler of rural Shoshoni, Wyoming (population 649) knows the process well and began his 15-year career working in predator control in 1976.
“I worked under the Department of Agriculture, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Metzler said. “It was in the pre-introduction [of wolves] period. The big difference now is they’re doing wolf control, and before we couldn’t.”
10,000 Hours in a Piper Super Cub Hunting Coyotes
The life of a predator hunter can take many directions. Oftentimes, they work with cattle ranchers and sheep producers, as portrayed in Wind River, hunting lions that prey on cattle and coyotes that attack sheep. But their work can also include protecting sage grouse in habitat areas.
Much of Metzler’s career was spent in a Piper Super Cub flown by his friend Tim Coleman.
“I spent 10,000 hours in a Super Cub, mainly hunting coyotes,” Metzler said. “We were hired and fired by the Predatory Animal Board through a mill tax on sheep and cattle. But we worked for the state of Wyoming under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
It’s the kind of career that is long on adventure and excitement but short on revenue.
“We didn’t get retirement or insurance,” Metzler said. “They paid us $800 a month with $300 for expenses. We had to provide our own pickup, rifle, dogs, dog food, and ammunition.”
Metzler had an amazing dog, an Australian Shepherd named Andy.
“Andy was my den dog or hunting dog. He worked with me for 10 years,” Metzler said. “He had over a thousand coyotes under him. I’d call, he’d go out and sit in front of me, then make a run on a coyote and bring it back to me.”
Andy suffered a broken leg twice and lost an eye and part of one ear in battles with coyotes.
“We called him lucky,” Metzler joked.
The job required a clever dog, and Andy was all of that. Coyotes will kill and eat small dogs, and Andy worked as bait, luring the coyote into chasing him as he ran back towards Metzler. He would cut at the right time, leaving a clear shot for his owner on the unwary predator.
“He liked to fight, but he didn’t fight with other dogs unless they picked a fight first,” Metzler said. “He loved little kids and the little coyote pups I brought back a time or two. He let them lick him and never fought one. He’d fly with us in the back of the airplane.”
Near Misses, Outright Mishaps
Hunting from an aircraft brought its own brand of excitement in numerous near misses and outright mishaps over the years.
“I shot a Remington 1100 with 2 ¾ bb shot,” Metzler said. “Tim would pull a chandelle [a 180 degree turn combined with a sharp climb], come in straight on, tip the wing, and I’d shoot out the right door.”
Regulations now forbid the move, requiring airborne hunters to shoot only out the left window of the aircraft.
One memorable day, Metzler took aim at a coyote and promptly shot the propeller off the plane, requiring an emergency landing. On another occasion, Coleman flew too low, hit a rock, and ruined the prop again.
“We landed on Boysen Peak. We sent for a replacement prop and had one dropped, wrapped in a mattress with a set of tools,” Metzler said. “We replaced the prop and took off.”
Perhaps the most remarkable sight the duo presented came when they lost an oil plug, and the engine lost oil pressure on a flight back to Riverton from Kinnear.
“We followed the highway towards the airport. We had a siren on the plane and blew it to get the cars out of the way and landed on the highway,” Metzler said. “We set down on the highway just outside the airport.”
Wyoming Highway Patrol officer Lavar Olsen arrived on the scene and told Coleman, “I can’t let you take that in; you’ll have to take the wings off.”
“It cost about $10,000 to take the wings off and put them back on, and Tim talked Lavar into letting us tow it with the wings on,” Metzler said.
But it wasn’t a traditional highway tow.
“The Super Cub is like a box kite. It’ll fly at 35 mph,” Metzler said.
They attached a tow line from Metzler’s truck to the Super Cub, and the plane lifted into the air behind the pickup. They towed it like a glider all the way to the airport and repaired the damage there.
‘We Skinned 1,069 Coyotes in 1978-79’
Coyote pelts paid $118 apiece in the brutal winter of 1978-79, but all the profit went to Animal Damage Control.
“We skinned 1,069 coyotes in 1978-79,” Metzler said. “I was never so sick of skinning. The legs would freeze, but the bodies wouldn’t, and we’d have to thaw them out, sometimes in the bathtub. We had fleas in the house; it was a real mess. The best day Tim and I ever had was 96 coyotes.”
That long winter that didn’t end until April of 1979 had Metzler taking a lot of ducks as well with a man named Larry Lee.
“Larry took the ducks out to St. Stephen’s [Mission Church], and the Mother Superior had the nuns plucking all those birds,” Metzler said. “We weren’t real popular with the nuns.”
Metzler worked with Fremont County’s legendary trapper and mountain man Jake Korell along the way.
“I dropped a bunch of coyotes off to Jake one day. A kid brought in a fox,” Metzler said. “[Before he brought it in], he asked what a foxtail was worth. ‘Nothing,’ Jake said. ‘Good,’ ‘cause I got a fox without a tail.’ Jake gave him full price.”
Modern predator control agents don’t have near the latitude in their operations that existed in the 1970s and 80s.
“We were turned loose; it was before a lot of regulations,” Metzler said. “We just did our job. That was what we were paid to do.”
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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