Wolf story from Specimen Ridge
Most good wolf sightings are from the road in the Lamar Valley area. Wolves hear hikers and move out of sight, but not always. Trent Morrell sent me this most interesting account of a recent hike on Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone Park.
In early October, me and two of my friends traveled from Portland, Oregon to explore the Lamar Valley for three days of day hikes.
The first day, Friday 10/12/07, we chose to hike the Specimen Ridge Trail. We had hiked it the summer of 2006 and were looking forward to doing it in the fall.
As we climbed up the first mile, we saw over 100 elk hanging on the ridge line with many big bulls still bugling. Amped up, we continued to the top of the ridge glassing the elk frequently and listening to the never-ending bugles. Once on the ridge line, we followed the trail along the top admiring the huge elk antlers that had been shed. We saw more and more elk.
About three miles in from the trail head we rounded a corner to a flat point. Here we had a herd of about twenty elk about 40 yards at 12 o’clock, about fifty bison 250 yards below us in a meadow at 2 o’clock, about 20 bison 60 yards below us at 9 o’clock and next to them a herd of about twenty elk. In the area between the elk herd at 12 o’clock and the bison and elk herd at 9 o’clock was a thicket of trees. We had not even been there a minute when out of the thicket shot a wolf up a small hill and into the herd of elk at 12 o’clock. Then shot another wolf and another up into the elk. It was hard to tell, but at least six wolves came out of the thicket.
We watched in disbelief as two of the wolves separated a young cow elk from the herd and chased it down a hill to the bison at 2 o’clock. The young elk ran into the herd of bison. It ran back and forth from each side of the bison herd as the two wolves tried to get to it. The bison would not allow the wolves to get to the elk, but eventually the elk ran out of the herd of bison.
The wolves chased it less than twenty yards and took it down. As this was happening we saw even more wolves come out of the thicket and observed two of these wolves separate another cow elk, chasing her behind the thicket. After the first elk was taken down by the wolves I looked to 9 o’clock and saw the two wolves that had took chase to the second cow elk take her down right next to the bison. The bison immediately surrounded the cow elk and for close to five minutes would not let the wolves get to it.
Eventually the bison moved on and the wolves moved in. After the wolves had the cow elk down many of them began to howl for several minutes. We think we counted close to sixteen wolves. About half went down to feed on the elk kill below us at 2 o’clock. The other half fed on the kill below us at 9 o’clock. We watched them feed and their faces turn red with elk blood. As we watched the wolves eat, I glassed the slope behind us and spotted a big grizzly up on a slope turning over rocks and I think eating something. Soon a coyote showed up and watched the wolves eat. After the wolves finished eating and were lying in the sun sleeping their big meal off, we headed back to our truck.
I found it very interesting that the elk herd did not leave the area. In fact, the elk only moved about thirty yards from where the wolves first started to chase them. I was also amazed at how protective the bison were.
One wolf also sticks out as it seemed larger than the others was gray in color and had a radio collar on. I think it may have been the alpha because it was first to feed and it kept a close eye on us. In fact, after the wolves were done eating it even snuck up behind us to about 30 feet before I noticed it. Then it ran back to the rest of the wolves after we turned and faced it. My description does not do this experience justice, but I tried. My mind is still full of the sounds, smells, visions and awe at what we saw that day- it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
17 Responses to Wolf story from Specimen Ridge
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Wow. Great experience, Yellowstone is so full of wildlife wonders.
That’s what it’s all about to me. Thanks for sharing. I’ve never seen anything that comes even close to that. That is what we need to preserve.
Unfortunately, humans will continue to encroach habitat, but hopefully smarter and with less impact than in the past. I’m not sure how but I have hope.
Incredible luck to be in such close proximity to all of this action. Nice story Trent. Thanks for sharing it.
I wonder which ‘end’ of Specimen Ridge they were on. The pack of 16 could have been the Druids …. Great story.
I was in Yellowstone a week before that and all I got was a blizzard. I’m jealous. Great story though.
WOW! What a story. I was lucky enough to see wolves howl in the wild last week for my time. I saw, right at the edge of my vision, some of Mollie’s Pack howl and then heard an answering call from behind. The other four members of the pack ran across the road to join them. It was pretty incredible. I spent part of both Wed and Thurs in the park and saw wolves both days. It was a nice way to end out the season before park roads closed this morning.
WOW, I sure wish I would have been there with you!. You were blessed that day, to be in the middle of all that wildlife and nature, did ya get any pictures? I don’t know if I could have taken any with all that going on around me. To have a alpha so close and see it eye to eye…..LUCKY YOU!!!
Thanks for that great story. You have lived a dream that many of us have. Hope you took some pictures.
WooooooW !! That is fantastic ! I call that a perfect day in Yellowstone ! Thank you for sharing your story and for all the details.
Very jealous. A friend and I were hiking the Agate Creek Trail on Sunday October 14th. Had we only been there two days earlier, we could have possibly enjoyed the same sight. We did run across two large herds of elk near the trail junction of the Agate Creek Trail and the Specimen Ridge Trail. Could have possibly been the herd targeted by the wolves. Anyway, this story just adds fuel for my next return to and hike of the area.
I feel very lucky to have witnessed such an event. I am excited to get back to the Lamar Valley. I am also very interested in which wolf pack I saw. After researching the wolves in the area I think it was probably the Agate Creek pack- anyone have other thoughts?
Planning my next trip back soon!
If you started your hike in Little America (west end of Specimen) then you’re probably right, it just may have been the Agates.
After watching Nature on Sunday night. I think that Yellowstone is a must-see with my camera. I haven’t been able to get back there since I was a child. Great story.
Hey Trent. Amazing story – thanks for sharing it.
I checked around and although I can’t be sure, I think the pack you saw was probably the Agates. Druids were near Soda Butte that day, and Slough wolves were visible on Jasper Bench from the road and Oxbow were seen in Hellroaring the day before. Plus the Agate alpha is a large collared gray 383M, which could be the wolf who came by to assess your intentions. The pack has both gray and black wolves and is fairly large this year. The area where you were is certainly part of their territory (although other packs use it, too)
I think it’s one of the most spectacular wolf-waching stories I’ve ever heard. Congrats on being in the right place at the right time, for not interfering, and for letting us know about it..
That is a superb story and nicely completes a wolf-rich week, what with the PBS special on Sunday full of Bob Landis’s marvelous footage of wolves and other park animals. If only the griz were faring as well this year!
Cool experience Trent, thanks for sharing! I can absolutely vouch for how protective the Bison can be at times. When I was tracking w/ the wolf winter study in March ’02, we witnessed an elk calf that was taken down by a subgroup of the Druid pack. There just happened to be a small herd of Bison that were nearby. Anyway to make a long story short, the Bison actually moved in and protected the elk calf. They defended it for approximately 4 hours until it bled out. During that time the Bison would actually shoo Ravens away from it. Either way though you obviously had a one of a kind Yellowstone experience!
I’m catching up on some reading here via my friend Elli Radinger’s blog where these sites are posted. Living on the east coast and being much too old for such adventuring, descriptive experiences like this one allow me to be there
vicariously. Thank you :-))