A wolf encounter

Tim Lydon, who works in Alaska, writes of an encounter he had with a wolf there during the late summer that was very calm and seemed motivated out of curiosity more than anything.

Calm of the wild.
by Tim Lydon – Missoula Independent

This is similar to all of the “close encounters” I have had with wolves over the years in Idaho. On a number of occasions, while working near Clayton, Idaho, I actively sought out wolf encounters with the Buffalo Ridge Pack. On at least 4 occasions I encountered wolves, while on foot during the late evening or at night, and the wolves only expressed mild interest when they mistook me for other wolves after I howled.

On one of those occasions I surprised the whole pack that had come down to the steelhead pond that I was tending for the Idaho Fish and Game so that they could eat the smolts that hadn’t left the pond yet. I had been given a radio receiver so that I could monitor the wolves while they interacted with the turbo-fladry which was being tested around the pond after several consecutive years where they came to feed there.

On another occasion I was asked to explore an area that had been used by packs of wolves that had repeatedly undergone heavy control actions where all of the known members had been killed. A friend had recently taken a hike in the area and had reported that she saw numerous wolf tracks. I reported this to someone in the wolf program and they asked me to check it out. Upon arrival at the area, on foot, two white heads popped up out of the sagebrush just 20 yards away from me to then run towards the suspected den site after one sharp bark. I invaded their denning area and nothing more than a warning bark to other wolves that I never saw.  Fortunately I got this photo of them.

Wolves in Central Idaho near their den site. © Ken Cole

I have also been told stories by people who worked in the wolf program about doing pup counts in dens while the alpha female ran frantically around howling while they were halfway down the hole counting pups. If there is ever a situation where a wolf would attack someone then I would think this would be it but they left the scene untouched.

Is this unusual?  Are wolves supposed to be afraid of people?  Well, when you look at historical accounts of wolves from before the great slaughter of them and their prey, the buffalo, you will see that wolves paid scant interest in people but also routinely approached them out of curiosity.  It seems that recent stories about wolf encounters are highly subject to interpretation by those who experience them. More often than not the people come away unscathed and their stories seem to be more influenced by what they felt about wolves before the encounters than by what happened during and after the encounters.

Never, during all of those years that I frequently encountered wolves, did I feel threatened. Actually, I felt blessed because I was able to see wolves on a very frequent basis and, as you know, I am fascinated by them.

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About The Author

Ken Cole

Ken Cole, Buffalo Field Campaign's Executive Director, is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He was formerly the Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

5 Responses to Calm of the wild

  1. I have had several close encounters with wolves(20 feet or less) and have never felt threatened by a wolf. In each case the wolves treated me like I was a stump or rock with a camera and went right on by me. They do not like eye contact with humans and I have several photos of wolves that shut their eyes when they saw my telephoto lens pointed at them.
    Yellowstone officials recently made a new rule that visitors have to stay 100 yards away from wolves after 15 years with a 25 yard rule. The new rule is silly and needs to be changed back to the 25 yard rule. Yellowstone wolves have 3 million chances (visitors) a year to attack humans and no one has ever reported being even growled at by a wolf.

    • avatar cc says:

      From a wolf’s perspective, the 100 yard rule is definitely a good thing. Now visitors will no longer be able to hide behind the old 25 yard rule when they approach wolves and disturb them at kills, rendezvous sites, etc. These things have happened annually in the park.

      And wolves have growled at people who approached them too closely at a kill, at least one in Lamar had come up to cars looking for food after being illegal fed like coyotes often are, and one was chasing motorcycles near Mammoth a few years back. These are isolated incidents caused entirely by people, but the logical thing would be to prevent anything further from happening from visitors behaving badly.

  2. avatar timz says:

    My doctor told me the other day he was jogging a couple weeks ago with another doctor in Yellowstone, just thru the gate at West Yellowstone. A wolf loped out of the trees about twenty feet in front of them, stopped took a look at them for a moment and went on it’s way. Showed no fear of them and no real interest in them.

  3. avatar Kayla says:

    Now personally I can echo and verify what this author here says about his close encounters with wolves. As for myself, during the summers do live back in the Yellowstone’s Thorofare and the surrounding country and never had a problem with the wolves back in that country. I have seen them on many occasion with them at times even coming near to my camp in the evening when am near asleep. But I have never – never have had a problem! And onetime unaware, I actually stumbled upon their densite in this Country. They, the wolves, had four half grown wolf pups that year. The adult wolf that was nearby just kept it’s distance and barked and barked at me like a backyard dog. But it stayed it’s distance from me about 300 or so feet away. I then very quickly instantly retreated from the area and left them alone. At other times when stumbled upon them, have heard them give one bark as a warning to the others and quickly disappear. I have seen their curiosity at time displayed myself also. But I have never – never in any sort of way felt threatened by the wolves. It is us Human Two Leggeds that one has to watch out for.

    And I will say even more on this very subject as concerning the Grizzlies also. In this Greater Thorofare Country of the Yellowstone ecosystem, I have had also quite a few close encounters with the Grizzly. And once I was even bluff charged by a Sow Grizzly with one newborn cub of the year on some remote ridge where I was all by myself. In how many of these close encounters with the Grizzly have I NOT felt threatened also. How many times when I have had some unexpected encounter with some Grizzly, did the Grizzly just as much want to retreat as myself. Do think personally that the Grizzlies are just as afraid of us as we are of them.

    Now I personally think that if these animals did learn to prey on us, do think we would be such easy prey it seems. But they do NOT and Sooooo Often Desire to leave us alone in what I have seen. I have seen both Wolves and Grizzlies being curious of us Human Two Leggeds but not threatening. It is a matter of living in Balance and Harmony and giving all the Creatures the room to live their lives in peace. How often do they give us our space but we need to give them their space which they deserve. How much can all the Creatures , both big or small, be such teachers to us Human Two Leggeds. I could go on but this will be it. I echo and verify what this author of this article says. And instead of them, the wolf or the bear, it is us the Human Two Leggeds that can be the real one to watch out for.

    Have a Great Day!

  4. avatar Jeff N. says:

    I had a close encounter with a Mexican Gray wolf from the Hawk’s Nest pack back on Nov. 6th, 2008 and I never once felt threatened. I had just crawled out of my tent on a cold, clear November morning and was setting up my spotting scope to scan a huge meadow for lobos, when from behind me I heard a series of barks followed by a howl. I couldn’t make an immediate visual because my tent was between me and the animal making the noise. My first thought was “that is a very deep voiced coyote” but then the bark/howl occured again and my next thought was that it was a dog, one more bark and howl and it hit my like a ton of bricks….this was no coyote or dog, it was a wolf. I grabbed my binoculars and quietly stepped from behind the tent and sure enough about 200 feet away was a lobo. It trotted past me keeping about the same distance away and entered the meadow. At this time, from about 150 yards away, it sat down and began to howl. Another wolf answered from directly in the center of this meadow, this wolf was probably 300 yards from where I was standing. I was able to observe both thru my spotting scope as they howled. Eventually the first wolf joined the second one and they both howled at a me for a few minutes, a third wolf howled from a further distance but I never got a visual on this wolf.

    This all occured at @ 7:00 am in the White Mountains of AZ. The sun was rising in the east from behind me and the wolves were west of me; the sunlight had the meadow and these wolves lit up perfectly. The detail thru my scope was excellent.

    I’ve observed wolves in YNP but I have never had an encounter like this in the park. This Mexican Gray wolf was extremely curious and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

    When I read about hunters being threatened by wolves, and having to climb trees, etc…. I just shake my head and laugh.

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