Close Encounters of the Wolf Kind!
This is no Sci-Fi story but it has all the hallmarks; tension and suspense, of a finely spun thriller involving a close encounter with a pack of very hungry wolves.
Editor in Chief: Chad Wilkinson
As daylight faded I began the five-mile trek back to my truck. It had been an uneventful evening of elk hunting. I’ve never been bothered by the dark, it’s just a part of what we do as hunters. We often walk to our destination under the cover of darkness and return at the end of each day under similar conditions. But that evening was different.
As I broke from the trees and began making my way across the stubble field, an indescribable uneasiness overwhelmed me. It’s difficult to articulate, but I thought about my backpack. No, it wasn’t on my back, where it was supposed to be; it was behind the seat in my truck. Several hours earlier I had decided to leave it behind. It was unseasonably warm that day and, in my haste, I had chosen to lighten my load and leave it behind. To make matters worse I realized I didn’t even have my hunting knife! Fuelling my anxiety, I counted only two arrows in my quiver instead of the usual eight. It was then that I realized just how vulnerable I really was. Unaware of what was about to happen, my instincts told me this could be cause for concern. Several minutes later I stepped on to the road. Somewhat relieved, I quickened my pace as the truck was still over a mile away … and then it happened.
Forty metres ahead, I saw eight silhouettes milling around in the field. Common sense suggested they were deer. Straining to make out the shapes, it was too dark to identify any good bucks. As I got closer six of them took off running. I remember thinking it was odd that they made so much noise as they charged through the stubble but really didn’t give it a second thought. Two of them remained. I recognized that this was peculiar but continued down the road until I was perpendicular to them. I chuckled under my breath about how tame they were.
Then, suddenly both of them bolted. It was so dark that I really had to squint to determine what was going on. Well, it only took a few seconds to realize that they were actually running toward me. Still not registering, I couldn’t believe these confused ‘deer’ would actually run right up to me! Then it registered …and I suddenly realized I was in trouble. These weren’t deer, but northern timber wolves! As long as I live I will never forget that moment. Surreal, the silhouettes ran through the ditch and up onto the road, pausing only a couple metres away from me. They were so close I could almost touch them! Now acutely aware of my predicament, at that moment, time stood still. Blood rushed to my feet and it felt as though pins were pricking my body. I’m not ashamed to say, the shock was so intense that I nearly passed out.
Before I fully knew what was going on, instincts kicked in; I wanted to run. In fact I even turned and lunged, but quickly acknowledged that that action could trigger them to tackle me. With every fibre of my being I wanted to escape. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I knew I had to think my way through this seemingly impossible situation. So I forced myself to stop, knowing that if I ran I would surely be attacked! I turned to face the wolves head on, pulling one of the two arrows out of my quiver. Then, as loud as I could, I yelled. Truth is it was so loud that I even surprised myself. Thankfully this stopped them and none too soon; they were now little more than a metre away. Now dealing with a stare down, their gleaming eyes, wet noses, and big ears were ominous.
They appeared to be confused but excited. In fact they looked like my dog at home when he has a squirrel cornered. I thought to myself, “I am the squirrel”. I forced myself to calm down. There would be no room for mistakes. Just as I had thought they were deer, I believe they thought maybe I was a deer or elk as well. To make matters worse, earlier in the afternoon I had dumped cow elk scent all over my pants. At that moment I sincerely wished I hadn’t done that.
I slowly began backing up and cautiously continued walking in the direction of my truck, which incidentally was still almost a mile away. Both wolves stood and stared until I was about 10 metres away. What happened next is both confusing and scary. One of them came up and walked beside me while the other put his nose on my boot tracks. Seeing that, I cursed the elk scent once again. As quickly as I dared, I continued to walk. I couldn’t show fear and it couldn’t appear as though I was trying to escape. We walked for several minutes, and then I heard a commotion behind me. The back wolf was rushing me! I turned to face him again and stood my ground. The other one came a few steps closer, and then they both stopped just out of my reach. I backed off again and resumed walking. Every 50 metres or so, they would rush me again. I soon realized that they were trying to get me to run.
I was angry at myself for being so unprepared. Sensing that they were getting anxious, I was forced to run at them swinging my arrow a couple times - but they always stayed just out of my reach. Believe me, I thought about attempting a shot, but with only two arrows and no knife, I chose to keep my only real weapons in hand.
That walk seemed to take an eternity but eventually I saw the roof of my truck reflecting the moonlight. I sighed in relief and picked up my pace as much as I dared, always keeping a close eye on my escorts. By this time, the moon was high. I could see that they were both black wolves. I will never forget that image. Their tails were up over their backs and their mouths open, panting with excitement. As I glanced at the one walking beside me, something over his back caught my eye. Off in the distance I saw six more out in the field, and they were approaching fast! I looked at the truck and then back at them. Would they get to me before I reached my truck? I knew it would be close.
At moments like that, reality hits you hard. Nature is cruel and you could well become a statistic if things go sideways. Looking back, this may have been the most emotional moment for me. I pictured my father and brothers visiting the site and saying, “he almost made it back to his truck when they got him, he must have been able to see it”. It might sound melodramatic, but it is the truth. That is exactly what went through my mind at that moment. I picked up my pace and, fortunately reached the truck just before the rest of the pack. As my shaking hands tried to get the key into the door, I looked back to see one of the wolves standing by the tailgate staring at me. Finally the door opened, I jumped into the cab, quickly started the truck, and turned on my lights in an effort to get a better look. Almost unbelievably they had vanished.
This was my first close, and in fact truly dangerous, encounter with wolves. With rapidly growing populations, we are living more and more with wolves. As these highly efficient predators continue to expand their range, and follow their prey out of the northern forests and closer to human development, this is a scenario that could occur more often. That encounter happened eight years ago. Since then, I have made an effort to learn everything I can about them, living and hunting side by side with them. Encounters have become a regular occurrence; I know they are all around me as I see wolf tracks on a regular basis.
Wolf Realities: Over the years, several things have become clear to me. Like any other large predator, when you are hunting where wolves live, it only makes sense to be prepared. It is not a matter of if you will encounter wolves, but when. A high wolf population has a tremendous impact on ungulates. They are highly efficient hunters and when they are hungry they will kill. Wolves take injured or sick animals, but they also regularly prey on healthy ones as well. Living with wolves also means preparing your property for them. Rest assured, given the opportunity they will take dogs and livestock. Much like black bears, they are unpredictable. I have walked up on them many times. On occasion I have even pushed them off of a fresh kill. Most of the time they run away, but don’t be fooled, they can be dangerous. Like any predator, they will protect their kill. If you are a perceived threat, they will take steps to protect it.
I have also watched them interact with domestic dogs. Again, most often, they run away from a barking pet, but once in a while, they will go after them and when they do, they have the ability to easily kill a dog.
Hunting as a Management Tool: We cannot forget the management implications associated with living with wolves. Those of us who are blessed to be able to spend a lot of time hunting will often pass on bucks until they reach five years of age or older. This works well where there are no wolves. However, in an area with a sizable population of wolves, six or seven year old bucks can be rare.
These are realities of living with wolves. They are incredibly smart, wary, and potentially very dangerous. It may seem that from a hunting perspective, living with wolves is negative in every way. However, there are positives. The most obvious benefit is increased hunting opportunity. A wolf hide in prime condition makes an impressive trophy. Wolves are challenging to hunt. They are extremely intelligent, and often seem to know when they are being pursued. Wolves cover large territories. This can make for a frustrating, but extremely rewarding, hunt when you finally knock one down. The fact is wolf numbers must be kept in check. Like most ungulate populations, hunting is and will continue to be, the best way to manage them, not to mention the fact that it’s a lot of fun for those of us who love the outdoors!