I get a lot of email about wolves in Yellowstone. Is this a good time to see them? NO

Dr. Doug Smith told me that the only viewing action is off and on in the Lamar and lower Slough Creek Pack and in Antelope Creek (that’s on the road between Tower Falls and Mt. Washburn).

The Slough Creek Pack is visible off an on in the Lamar Valley and the mouth of Slough Creek. The Agate Pack is moving around a lot, but they still pass through Antelope Creek.

All of the packs except one have left their rendezvous sites (Swan Lake has not yet). The pups are travelling with the full packs as they hunt.

Some have asked me about grizzly bears, wolves and the elk rut (which is in full swing). Both grizzlies and wolves know about the rut and to look for wounded bull elk. Unfortunately for wolf watchers much of the rut is up high away from roads, and packs like the Druids are still up high.

Outside Yellowstone Park, the elk hunting season (for humans) is on, and that means full bellies for wolves (and grizzlies) who know plenty about gut piles (their favorite) and about wounded deer and elk.

There seems to have been an escalation of small scale attacks on livestock by wolves lately (see the controversy on the planned Idaho Wolf Control). The elk hunting season helps stave this off by leaving plenty of food for hard pressed packs (this is the hardest time of the year for wolves to get food in settings where they have to chase down their prey).

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

13 Responses to Yellowstone wolf watching update

  1. avatar Steve says:

    Ralph – interesting point in your post:

    “This is the hardest time of the year for wolves to get food in settings where they have to chase down their prey.”

    Could you elaborate on that? I’ve noticed something of a trend in Septembers past, and have my own ideas about the cause, but would like to hear your observations.

  2. Sure, Steve.

    August through October is a time when the wolf pups are large and require a lot of food. Unfortunately for the wolf pack the pups are next to useless in the hunt. Give them 4 or 5 more months and they will be great, but now they just eat.

    On the other hand, and deer and elk are healthy and fleet. As a result the adult wolves have to work harder, expend more calories to feed the pack. In Yellowstone Park fall is lean for the wolves and the winter is fat.

    In a hunted area outside the Park, the wolves suddenly find wounded elk and deer from bad shots and gut piles from successful shots. Wolves like the internal organs. They eat the lungs, brain, heart, liver first. They avoid the intestinal tract. Then they start on the meat which would, of course, be what humans would eat. If the wolves find gut piles alone, they are very well fed. The same is true of the bears.

  3. avatar Jim Delaney says:

    Hi Ralph-sure like your new format…Q about the Druids…are they still up high above Cache Creek..and are they beginning to return to Round Prairie? Do you feel that they can winter in and around that area, or do you feel they will have to try to split time in Lamar with the Sloughs?

  4. They are still up in Cache Creek and along the ridgetop area on the east boundary of the Park.

    I think they will probably occupy Round Prairie and the top of Lamar Valley, with a danger line between them and the Sloughs somewhere near Buffalo Ranch.

  5. avatar Jim says:

    Ralph, great site. I am sure you have heard, but last Thurs. the Hayden Valley was crazy. Apparently earlier in the week the pack had killed a buffalo fairly close to the road (200-300yds) We went out there as we noticed about 20 cars parked along the road. When we got up to the hill overlooking the kill site at about 7pm we saw a big grizzly eating the buffalo. about 20 minutes later another grizzly came charging out of a stand of pines. He covered about 200 yards in no time at all. He took the carcass. The first bear hung around but never was allowed to get close enough to get it back. at about 7:30 the wolves showed up. The alpha male laid out on a ridge surverying the scene while the alpaha female and another wolf stayed back. They then disappeared behind the ridge and suddenly all 5 Hayden’s came sprinting out of the trees, 4 of them surrounded the first bear. It laid flat on the ground and gave up. The alpha male trotted over to the carcass and the pack quickly followed. The grizzly that was eating at that time left, and attempted to come back but the pack held him off. A third grizzly showed up about dark, but never moved in. IT WAS AMAZING TO SEE THE WOLVES WORKING TOGETHER SO WELL. MY FIRST TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE AND I WILL BE BACK!!!!!!!!!

  6. Jim,

    Thank you very much for your post.

    No, I didn’t hear of it. I talked to Doug Smith yesterday and he didn’t mention it.

    The Haydens are an aggressive pack. They have killed other wolves without any losses. Last winter that big alpha male knocked over and killed a bison bull (although a weakened one) by himself.

    Down in the Pelican Valley, Mollies Pack is just being overrun by multiple grizzly bears on almost every kill they make.

    Thank you sharing this experience.

  7. avatar Jim says:

    Ralph, no problem. They were fun to watch. I do have some video of it, albeit low quality. It will be a part of my collection forever.

  8. avatar Jim says:

    One more post…. We had done some hiking in the Pelican Valley last week on our vacation. We saw on old buffalo kill site by the dilapidated bridge. The bones and horns were bleached so it did appear fairly old. Anyway, we did notice that the wolves had been using the hiking trail to scout the valley, we saw several sets of footprints in the dust, and even some pup prints as well. I guess they are out with the pack gaining some experience? Pretty cool. We did see two other black wolves way way out in the distance somewhere in the vicinity of Mt. Washburn I believe. I can’t remember for sure. Anyway, thats about it. Thanks for having this site, it has loads of info to keep myself and my girlfriend up to speed on the happenings in and around the park until we are able to get up there again.

  9. avatar Dale C. Ditolla says:

    I was in the Park Saturday, 9/16 and saw two white wolves just off the highway between Hayden Valley and Canyon (Hayden Valley Pack?). Also saw six black wolves in the Lamar Valley, not sure which pack.
    – – – –
    In the Lamar, it was most likely the Slough Creek Pack. Ralph Maughan 

  10. avatar Dan C says:

    Ralph, Really enjoy your site. Can you summarize the situation regarding pup survival this year? Also, what is the status of the parvo that Dr Smith and crew have thought in the past led to poor pup survival? Do they still think parvo exists and is causing poor pup survival in past years if not currently? Thanks, Dan

  11. From all reports pup survival is very good this year.

    Certainly parvo still exists in Yellowstone (although it was never determined what the killer disease was last year).

    Parvo and other diseases seem to crop up only under certain conditions. Those conditions have not been determined.

  12. avatar Jenny says:

    I just talked to my parents- who are in Yellowstone- and they informed me of some great wolf watching. Evidently there is a fairly fresh kill off the road and visible near Tower junction. They arrived yesterday evening (10/3) in time to see wolves being chased off by a grizzly. The wolves evidently did not go far as they were still visible from an area near the bridge lying and waiting to return. The hope to see more action today. I will keep posting as I receive information from them.

  13. avatar Leah says:

    we were also in the park on the 14th of september and got to see the two grizzlies feed on the bison carcass, then watch the 5 wolves take it away. what a great show! There were 2 park rangers with guns(308) between us and the bears. We missed the third bear. Then, about a week later there was another bison carcass about a mile away (towards Canyon) that had a baby staying close by. I wondered why it was never fed on, as we and several others watched it close for a few days. It was close to the road, and the rangers had closed the area around it.

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