Big weekend for me as I spotted my first wolf outside of those I have seen in Yellowstone Park. It was late in the day on Saturday and I was crusin’ the backroads in southwest Montana just out dinkin’ around and spotting all kinds of elk herds when near the end of the day it happened. I had turned around from my furthest point out and was easing my way back toward the cabin when I pulled over and was watching a small herd of 15 head of elk. I saw these elk earlier in the afternoon and passed them by figuring I would check them out on the way back as I was headed home. I sat and watched them for a bit and then continued up the highway. I was putzin’ along when I caught movement not too far off the highway. I saw this critter loping along through the sagebrush and first wondered “What’s that?” It was darker colored than a mule deer and deer don’t run like that. The second I said to myself “It’s not a coyote” it hit me. It’s a Wolf. Wow, not what I was expecting but there was no doubt what it was once it clicked for me. As he was loping along he was looking back at me and keeping an eye on me. When I first spotted him I would say he was less than a hundred yards out and I think I had just missed him crossing the highway. So I hit the skids and when I did that he kicked it into high gear. I got my binoculars up and barely caught a look at him making a getaway. He’s mostly black with a little white through his body and he looked a little ragged and kind of skinny. Not a great big healthy looking animal like the ones I see in Yellowstone and nothing like some of the pictures I have seen of these huge wolves that people have harvested. None the less this is a real live wolf and that’s cool even if you don’t like the wolves. I happen to have my camera with me but there wasn’t time for that. Besides, I also had my rifle with me and I do carry a wolf tag in my pocket. I’m no longer a wolf hater like I was twenty years ago in the beginning of the wolf reintroduction and this is the first year I bought a wolf tag. Not thinking that hunting a wolf would be a priority but more to think FWP could use a little more money to help the cause and who knows, I might just stumble onto one somewhere. Imagine that? Plenty of people out there have been saying they saw a wolf here and there and anymore almost everywhere. Some see singles, some see packs and some just see tracks. With all the reports I have been hearing I have only seen one track in my huntin’ country and that was an eye opener. I had to say to myself “Wow, they really are here.” That was one track a year and a half ago and I haven’t seen anything since. One thing about it though, when you see a wolf track there is no doubt about it and till now the one track was all I got.
When he bolted it only took a few seconds and he was over the rise and out of sight. Not knowing wolves very well when he kicked it into gear and headed north I figured he’s gone. But he was headed out into the wide open and I know there is no place for him to hide. I figured I best whip around and get to the county road where I expect he is headed. I was pretty sure I had a good chance to head him off. If nothing else I’m going to see him somewhere in the wide open cuz there is no where for him to hide where he was headed. I back tracked down the highway to a dirt road and charged up the way. I could see that little bunch of elk I had been watching most the whole time but not seeing the wolf. Where’d he go? There’s no place to hide! It’s wide open out there and I’m lookin’, lookin’, lookin’, and nothing. So I stopped to use my binos. Again lookin’, lookin’, lookin’ and there I see a little black dot all the way back on the ridge I last saw him run over. That’s him just sitting there watching those elk likely wondering how he could score an elk steak dinner. I bet he didn’t go another fifty yards from where I last saw him run over the ridge. He no sooner got out of my sight and he sat down. Now he is a half a section away and it is wide open between him and me. Back to where I started is what I am thinking and that’s my only chance to sneak up on him. So I headed back down the dirt road and on up the highway. It’s getting late in the day but it’s only a mile or so of county road, a mile or so of highway and I am back to where I first saw him. He is just over the rise and probably not even a couple hundred yards away. A little hard to sneak up on him as I am walking across drifted snow and falling through about every other step. Wind is right tho and he can’t see me. Maybe with the noise from the wind I can expect that he can’t hear me either. As I sneak over the ridge looking for him to be right in front of me I catch movement way out to the north. There he is trotting along the fence line almost to the county road I was just on. He must have got up right after I headed back around. This dog is in my head and reading my every thought. He slipped me again! Too close to dark now by the time I get back to the truck and go around. I’ll have to come out again tomorrow morning and see if he is still around. Slim chance but there are plenty of elk out here to make a meal or at least to keep him in the area thinking these is a feast close by. Who knows?
Since I didn’t get any pictures of the wolf I figured I better put in a few elk photos so you have something to look at before I tell you “The Rest of the Story”.
Next morning I wasn’t in a hurry to be out at o’dark thirty so I indulge in the better part of a fresh pot of coffee and a good breakfast before I headed out for a ride. I wasn’t anywhere close to where I saw the wolf and I spotted a couple of elk herds. One herd was somewhere near a hundred head and the little bunch was twenty-five or so. I kept rolling down the highway a few more miles and saw some more elk to the south. These weren’t too far off a county road so I pulled over and headed down the lane. There were another thirty or so head in this bunch. I was about three hundred yards from them but they seemed a bit nervous when I stopped. They were moving around some but they didn’t run off or anything. I got a few photos and then turned around and headed back to the highway. I cruised another mile and came to the county road where I last saw the wolf the night before. I headed west on the road and could see two cow elk in the field where I saw the fifteen head the night before. I motored on about a half mile when I looked to the north and I saw movement under a pivot. I pulled up my binos at the same time this critter stopped and he was starring me eye to eye. Same black wolf I saw last night but he was looking right at me with a full white face. It reminded me of the old western movies when the Indians painted their faces white. This dog’s whole face was white as fresh snow. Didn’t look like an old wolf and in fact looked like a younger dog. He really was a cool looking animal but he didn’t stand there long and he was on the move. He ran off the hay field and into some sage brush and then into a small ravine. I bailed out of ol’Red Dog and headed across the field on foot. I saw a couple of flashes of him and he was headed south almost right in front of me. I figured he’s gotta come out of that ravine into the wide open, I am going to get a good look at him and he should be close. I can see good and there’s no where for him to go. He has to come out of there with no where to hide. I’m sure I got him now!