DURHAM, OK - Max Montgomery can't honestly say Wylie is his best bird dog, but that's partly because Wylie isn't a dog.
Wylie is a coyote.
Montgomery, a 50-year-old western Oklahoma rancher, adopted the coyote when it was only a pup soon after its mother was shot and killed by another man. Montgomery hoped to raise it as a pet.
Not only did that work out, but Wylie amazed his owner by quickly taking up with - and emulating - the six bird dogs on the place.
Now, at younger than a year old, Wylie sometimes beats them at their own game. With his blaze orange collar and his tail spray-painted the same color for safety in the field, he's becoming known as a bird-hunting coyote.
"I've never penned him up and never had a rope or anything on him. He's free to go if he wants. And I never dreamed you could hunt with him," Montgomery said.
When Wylie started tagging along on quail hunts, and proved not to be a bit gun shy, Montgomery began encouraging the coyote to keep learning.
"He catches on quick," Montgomery said. "He's eight months old, and an eight-month-old bird dog ain't worth a flip. He's got a lot better nose than a bird dog." The coyote works differently than a bird dog, Montgomery said. He doesn't point in the classic fashion, but he does "freeze" in his tracks at the right time. And often he lollygags behind, letting the dogs expend their energy up ahead, until they act like they've found something interesting.
"He's quick," Montgomery said. "One minute you know where he is, and the next he's gone, then he's back again. He blends right in. Sometimes when he's huntin' close by, you can't see him, but after you flush a covey, he watches where they go; he knows right where they're at."
When not hunting, the young coyote is pretty much like a dog on the place, eating, lazing about and occasionally snarling and romping with his more domesticated companions, but he sleeps outside at night regardless of the weather and howls and yips instead of barking.
He's as friendly with most visitors as he is with his owner, obviously enjoying being petted.
During the five times Wylie was taken afield during the past quail season, Montgomery said the coyote has helped find numerous coveys, pointed out three individual birds by himself and retrieved six dead birds.
Montgomery rates his coyote "excellent" at retrieving.
Well, almost. Of those six birds, Montgomery got only four. BIOG: NAME: UPD:Archive ID: 712395