If the story as told in today’s Billings Gazette is accurate, it is amazing what a little fear of wolves will cause a person to do.

A single bark from a wolf is a sound that means it is surprised — startled.  As expert wolf trapper and handler Carter Niemeyer tells it (Niemeyer has crawled into many wolf dens to count the pups) wolf packs have never attacked him, but generally fled instead.

The Yellowstone River is very big and cold this time of year.  Jumping into it would certainly indicate strong emotion.

Park officials looking into hiker’s encounter with wolf. Billings Gazette. By Martin Kidston

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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.

50 Responses to Park hiker stumbles onto wolf, sprays her, jumps in the Yellowstone River and nearly dies of cold

  1. avatar Ken Cole says:

    Over on the unofficial Yellowstone FaceBook page there are several anti-wolfers freaking out because they initially thought it was an official YNP page.

    They thought it was some big conspiracy that the page didn’t have some official statement about it. Agenda 21 bullshit.

    • avatar DLB says:

      Anti-wolfers have been praying for a true wolf attack in the NRM for 17 years. It’s amazing to see the desperation with which they try to fabricate an attack out of the most benign of encounters.

      I feel ashamed for them.

    • avatar YNP4me says:

      Ralph, the story is not complete / finished being investigated. I have been following the story since Saturday. It’s my understanding that there are “unattributed” portions (who is the source) in the Billings Gazette story.

      What is striking to me about the whole story is that the anti-wolf crowd knew of the story before those who should have known of it. I’ll privately email you some information that happened on Saturday and Sunday relating to this story.

      ~ Vicky

  2. avatar Carter Niemeyer says:

    It is common behavior for adult wolves to bark or bark/howl when they have pups in a den or at a rendezvous site. Throughout the summer the behavior is the same and a quick assessment that wolves are warning people and their pack of imminent danger. This doesn’t reflect danger to people in my experience but simply is a wolf’s way of protecting its young and creating a distraction so that pups and other pack members can escape. Nothing unusual about this kind of behavior except that humans react in many different ways from fascination to fear. I’ve been barked and howled at many times by wolves as a diversionary tactic while the rest of the pack moves the pups to better security. Of course, if you are desperate to create fear in people, the anti-wolf crowd will use this normal behavior to scare hell out of people.

    • avatar Jon Way says:

      Interesting observations Carter. Eastern coyotes/coywolves do it as well and not only is it a warning call to their pack but they also seem to do it to avoid confrontations with people – generally they do it nearby but in thick brush so out of sight. Often, they will move their pups if the danger (person) really bothers them. It is a very distinct sound with either many “woofs” or a distinct woof then howl – some of the females almost sound like they are yodeling…

    • There are different types of barks. I have heard coyotes and wolves bark a short warning bark when startled or when a den is approached. This is different than a bark they use if harassing something. I investigated a coyote’s excited,high pitched bark that was being repeated over and over, and found the coyote harassing an injured wolf. This was near Swan Lake in Yellowstone.

    • avatar Robert says:

      Good thing this hiker didn’t come across a killdeer nest. Mama killdeer screeches and comes after you!

      • avatar Dan says:

        now that’s funny…he would have probably thought the broken wing trick was a stalking position…

  3. avatar louise kane says:

    Its hard to believe that someone reacted so strongly to seeing a single wolf and hearing it bark once. Its almost comical in a strange way to think of someone running to a river and leaping in at the sight of a wolf.

    I’m glad he did not have a gun.

  4. avatar Richie.G says:

    I was about fifty yards away from one in slough creek, where a day before one got killed by another pack April 2006.Best experience of my life, I heard a pack howl across the river for this one. He ran in trees came out,looked at me for a while and he was gone. He had a dead something in the trees I found out later. But the bad thing was I had a dead battery in my camera! Darn

    • avatar Jerry Black says:

      Most animals, birds, snakes and even fish will react this way to protect their nesting sites, dens etc.
      I had a Coopers Hawk dive bomb me 2 days ago, so close I could have caught him with a fishing net. I got too close to his/her nest.

      • avatar WM says:

        Maybe this guy over-reacted as a result of watching the recent Liam Nieson wolf terror movie, “The Grey,” and relied on the gross misinformation it contains. And for anyone thinking about renting the DVD, it’s not worth the time to watch it.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          Saw “The Grey” at the theater. Artistically, not too bad, but in terms of the wolves, completely misleading. So misleading that the wolves could only have represented in a metaphorical sort of way, that “marooned” as they were, let your guard down, and something in nature will get you. It did not have to be wolves.

          Other than the shock value, the wolves presence could have been used more effectively/symbolically as a forerunner to whatever natural calamity awaited the crash survivors.

          That said, the cliff jumping into the trees was on a par with the acrobatics of the hilarious mountain climbing movie, “Vertical Limits”.

  5. avatar Rita K. Sharpe says:

    Here we go.The anti-wolfers are going to run with this one.

  6. avatar jburnham says:

    Reminds me of this from last summer. Hiker jumps in lake to avoid a black bear that seems completely oblivious to her.

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/07/09/wyoming.grizzly/

    Some people seem to think that every wild animal is just waiting for the right opportunity to attack a person.

  7. avatar John Glowa says:

    If this individual is afraid of wolves, what is he doing wandering around Yellowstone? He should stay in the city where it’s safe.

  8. I was hiking near Stanley, Idaho when something struck me below the knee from behind. I turned and found a female Blue Grouse attacking my leg. She would strike me with an extended wing. I looked around and found several chicks hiding in the grass and flowers nearby.

    • avatar skyrim says:

      I’ve fished enough Mallard chicks out of storm drains to know the wrath of Mommy, despite my obvious intentions for the welfare of the youngsters.

  9. avatar Immer Treue says:

    Ever been around the nesting sites of red-winged black birds?

    This would have been a non-event if said hiker had left the area of the “female”. Instead the bear spray(actually I have no problem with this, if indeed he was threatened, however that could all be in the perception), but then to run and jump into the Yellowstone river! Yikes! It’s a wonder Darwin did not intercede in the process.

    • avatar JB says:

      I’ve been “whacked” in the head by RWBBs on three occasions while running. I’ve been dive-bombed many more times. It got so bad in one area that I started wearing a baseball hat as “armor”. LOL!
      —-
      Seems Darwin’s intervention was interrupted by NPS staff. Probably for the best.

  10. Much as Carter described happened to me and my wife while hiking the North Fork of the Koyukuk in AK. Hiking down one of dry gravel sloughs we ran into a rendezvous site. The young wolves seemed all legs and the “baby sitter” adult started howling like crazy at us from 30 meters away, pacing back and forth up on the river bank. I had been wearing my camera around my neck for several days and had a neck ache. It took me about a minute and a half to dump the contents out of my pack and pick up the camera. All I ever got was some butts vanishing into the willows – still very cool though.

  11. avatar Dan says:

    I once had a cougar scream at me and that was enough to make a person jump into a river….piercing and horrifying.

    While bow hunting 3 years ago I believe I walked into a wolf pack about an hour before light. I believe it scattered them because one barked off to my one side and about a minute later one barked off on my other side. A few minutes later the pack(I think there were 6 by the howls) group howled about 50 yards below me on an old skid trail. They howled until one(I believe the alpha) growled and they all were quiet. The wolves did not even compare to the cougar scream…not nearly as piercing or horrifying. It was actually fairly pleasant sounding. I would not want to have another cougar scream at me but I wouldn’t mind hearing a few more group howls up close.

  12. avatar TC says:

    Probably not the worst outcome for the wolf – it learned some people are clueless and capable of inflicting harm, and that knowledge may be valuable some day.

    I’ve been chased into (and far down) a runoff bloated river by a moose. Probably shrieking the entire time (I’ve suppressed that part of the memory). Adrenaline is a cruel master.

    • avatar Nancy says:

      TC – can oh so relate to your moose story 🙂 I love seeing moose in the meadow across from me but… from a distance, since they can be down right cranky when surprised or with young.

  13. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    Am I the only one who sees the humour value in this tale, since nobody got hurt ? Man gets woofed by Wolf, runs into river, freezes cajones and loses backpack ?? Every time I play that mental video I laugh. The guy who wrote the story for the BG lives across the street from me and we had a good yuk.

    But….I’ve got a better one… a battle between an irate Canada goose and a briefcase toting college professor guy.
    YouTube vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFVqfKf7NBg

    Turn down the audio and cue up some battle music from Star Wars (you’ll see why soon enough )

    Hilarious.

    • avatar JB says:

      Thanks, Cody. I took your advice. I recommend John Williams’ “Duel of Fates” for the scene. LOL!!

    • avatar WM says:

      Cody,

      The humor of this wolf den – spray thing did not escape me, either. I’m still chuckling over the visual image of this unfolding.

  14. avatar Robert R says:

    What this guy done was probably not nessasary other than he reacted to something he might know nothing about.

    I will not laugh this one off because if he had a domestic dog with him the out come may have been totally different than just a knee jerk reaction of spraying pepper spray.
    I had a similar incident with a bitch coyote that had pups.while walking and taking pictures of wildlife the coyote started yipping at my lab and she changed her tone and before I knew it the male moved in and bit my lab and that was his fatal mistake because the male coyote lost the battle. After that encounter my lab did not care if it was a pup, female or male if he could catch them that was the end.
    when a domestic dog is involved it become territorial.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Robert R,

      What he didn’t need to do is run and jump in the river.

      If dog and coyotes or dogs and wolves get together, it is never a friendly affair.

      • avatar elk275 says:

        The Yellowstone River below the lower falls until after Gardiner scares the **** out of me. When I fish that part of the Yellowstone I never wade and try to stay several feet from the water’s edge. If one ever fell into the river below the bridge at Roosvelt Lodge there is no getting out. I would much rather deal with a wolf or grizzly on land than retreat to the water.

        • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

          elk 275,

          If he was in the Hayden Valley and jumped in the Yellowstone, he must have been on the east side of the river because the highway is in front of the river on the west side.

          If he was at the bottom of the valley (north) it would not be long until he went over Upper Falls, although at current water temperatures he’d probably be unconscious before he went even a half mile.

  15. avatar Dan says:

    Maybe the guy was a Lewis and Clark fan…Lewis jumped into a river to avoid a grizzly and it worked…just say’n

  16. avatar Jeff N. says:

    I had a similar encounter with an alpha pair of Mexican Gray Wolves back in 11/08. The alpha female approached my campsite barking and howling. My tent was between us and when I stepped around it there she was. Eventually she was joined by the alpha male and they howled at me from a distance of a few hundred feet…the encounter lasted about 5 minutes. I remember how cold I was before I heard the initial barking/howling…it was 7:00 am on 11/06/08. I never felt threatened. It was a great experience.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Jeff N,

      I am envious. I camped in the middle of the Hawk’s Nest wolf pack’s territory in NE Arizona a few years ago and saw no sign.

      Your story shows how human perception affects the event.

      A fair number of people have had experiences like this. Those that already have an anti-wolf mindset would come home with story how two wolves trapped them in their tent and wouldn’t leave.

      Of course the classic was yesterday’s story of the guy who came across a female wolf at her den in Yellowstone, which he promptly pepper-sprayed when she barked. Then he fled into the frigid swirling waters of the snowmelt Yellowstone River to escape her imaginary clutches.

      • avatar Jeff N. says:

        Ralph,

        It was the alpha pair of the Hawks Nest Pack. After the encounter I drove to Alpine, AZ where the lobo recovery field office is located. I gave them the location of my camp and they said I was camping near the pack’s rendezvous site, and the alpha female was checking me out. As the pair were howling, another one joined in from a farther distance away. I never saw that one.

        I’ve been back to that camping spot numerous times and have not seen them again, but I have seen sign and I have heard them howl on one occasion since my 2008 encounter.

  17. avatar Mtn Mamma says:

    Does anyone know which pack this was and where the den is located? Seems unusal that there would be a den or rendezvous site next to a trail head. I think he should be charged for harrassing wildlife.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      I found out it was probably the alpha female of the Canyon Pack, one of two packs with confirmed pups in the Park this year.

  18. avatar mikarooni says:

    I tend to think that this just absolutely had to have been some ridiculous and twisted sort of stunt. Nobody would honestly act this stupidly childish in response to a lone female babysitting a den. If it wasn’t a staged stunt, they need to institutionalize the individual, for life, on the grounds that he’s such a complete loon that he poses a clear danger to himself and the public.

    • avatar JB says:

      Well, I disagree with you there, Mik. On my very first visit to Yellowstone I stopped to go for a quick hike and when I got out of my car a woman came running from the train screaming that the wolves were going to get her. I tried to calm her down, but she ran right past me and jumped in her car. Wanting to see wolves, I excitedly ventured down the train from which she had emerged. Maybe 50 yards down the train two coyotes emerged and proceeded to march toward me on the train until they got about 30 feet away, then they moved off to one side and walked right on by without a glance. I went back and tapped on the door and tried to explain to the woman that she had seen two coyotes and they were, for all intents and purposes, harmless. But she would have none of it. I finally gave up and went for my walk.

      The same trip I watched a man come to within 15 feet of a bull moose in an open field with a point and shoot camera. He got right up in the bulls face and fired a shot–flash on.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Mik,

      I seems there was a lot of what I’ll call chatter from the usual anti-wolf leaders about this before it came out in the media. It was like they had prior knowledge and were hoping it could be turned into a wolf attack.

      Nevertheless, the person who jumped in the river was, I learned yesterday from a trusted source, just a Xanterra employee. I think he was hiking in a closed area (not sure though).

      • avatar mikarooni says:

        Okay, something’s very wrong. There was a time when Xanterra (TW Services) briefed their incoming “employees” before they let them loose on the park. Sure, you can’t screen everybody and there have always been incidents, the moonlight tryst into the hot spring and so forth; but, the recent spate seems a bit much. First, the Russian girl in the canyon and now this loon (literally a “loon” as it turns out) and this is only June. Xanterra needs to self-assess; the contract is up for bid.

      • avatar Salle says:

        Here’s a little tidbit I that was shared with me today by someone who has a little ore info…

        Apparently, the individual’s story is being met with great skepticism from park officials because…

        There’s no proof he even had bear spray, backpack was lost in the river.

        There’s no proof there were wolves in that area or that he was even actually hiking.

        It’s all hearsay from the alleged victim.

        So I wonder if the story was made up by this person to compensate for the ignorance of jumping in the river in the first place, maybe it was a set up as some have speculated here… fodder for the wolf-haters out there with possible agenda attached.

        Since the credibility of the story at face value is very sketchy, the part of the incident involving the wolf might be entirely fictitious.

        It will be interesting to see what the investigation reveals.

        • avatar Savebears says:

          Staged, staged and staged again, typical. I would rather fight a grizz, than jump in the Yellowstone at this time of the year!

  19. avatar dcookie says:

    My dog barks at people passing by the house. Good thing this guy didn’t have a gun.. he might have hurt himself. We once had wolves howling on either side of us in the Sawtooths. It was just wonderful. I mean really wonderful!

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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