More on close wolf encounters

What does wolves close up mean?

If a wolf approaches you, you should certainly not assume it wants to eat you.  On the other hand, watch it closely, it isn’t necessary benign.

Some people can “read” dogs, cats, horses, and other animals.  People who can’t fill in the blanks with their hopes, fears, and generalizations from other animals.

This last month we witnessed the fearful reaction of two Montana hunters to a pack of wolves nearby. Flathead Valley hunters shoot wolf, say they were surrounded. By Tristan Scott of the Missoulian. Over the years, we have posted a number of other accounts where people had “scary,” close wolf encounters.  Some folks will recall the humorous story of the Forest Service employees (from Utah) who encountered howling wolves in the middle of the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho (I don’t recall if they even saw one of the wolves), but they were so frightened by the howls they had a Forest Service helicopter fly into the designated Wilderness area to be evacuated.

I have heard no “scary” stories from people except from those already hateful or frightened of wolves, and who had a close encounter.

I’ve had two close encounters.  With the first (1997) I was so overconfident, I was just stupid. We (five of us) repeatedly approached the Rose Creek Pack on Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone when they had about 18 members.  The wolves kept trotting 50 to 100 yards ahead, stopping and bark howling. At the time I didn’t know a bark howl is a much different message than a howl.

I have posted the story how being circled by wolves was thought to be a wonderful experience.

Here is another interesting close encounter. Ken Cole posted this story today too.  It ended just fine, but it’s hard to know what the wolf was doing. Calm of the wild. Living with wolves takes some practice by Tim Lydon. Writers on the Range in the  Missoula IndependentKen also posts his own experiences.

I think if people have a scary wolf experience it is probably because they interpret most wolf behavior as something to be frightened of.  To take it step farther, a frightened person might look like prey to an otherwise uninterested wolf.

Maybe some people are natural prey.






  1. Kayla Avatar

    Good Article and Links. Thanks for Posting!

  2. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K. Sharpe

    I,also, thank you for the post.

  3. Virginia Avatar

    Interesting. I have been bitten twice by dogs that came to the door when I rang the bell. I would just as soon take my chances with wolves as with those dogs.

  4. WM Avatar


    ++This last month we witnessed the fearful reaction of two Montana hunters to a pack of wolves nearby++

    Just to be fair to the facts surrounding the circumstances of these two hunters, there were at least two variables not accounted for in the wolf-human encounters you describe as rarely, if ever, resulting in problems.

    The hunters had horses; and there was fresh elk meat on the ground and being loaded on the horses.

    We know a fair number of backcountry visitors use horses/mules/burros or llamas, and sometimes even goats. Then there is the possibility of a dog traveling with a human, sometimes on leash and others not.

    Attractants of these types may result in encounters with a different outcome. What will happen? And, what is a human to do if the wolves go after the livestock or dog that accompanies them?

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    You are right about this, and I would have discussed it above but didn’t have time writing it to bring it in this morning.

    A number of the scary wolf encounters have involved dogs. In fact, I think in each case it was all about the dog, but the owners didn’t understand that. Many people will just assume the wolves are interested in them because we are just so interesting to animals, and maybe tasty too. 😉

    There is a lot of horse use in the Yellowstone backcountry. I am not writing of hunters passing through. I’ve heard of no incidents with wolves. On my old blog I put up a story of a large wolf pack passing through the horse camp in the middle of the night with no problems at all.

    Now horses plus fresh elk meat is a step beyond. I’m not saying these Flathead hunters shouldn’t have had a care in world. I’m irritated by all assumptions they made and their made-for-the-media tale. And I’m so glad God saved them from an awful death. 😉

  6. Craig Avatar

    I’ve had 4 encounters with Wolves while Hunting and 3 ended up in Wolves on the run and the last with not seeing but just Howling at us! When the wolves seen us on the first 3 they were running and got the hell outta the area.

  7. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    About four years ago. I encountered a pack of wolves near Hinton, Alberta (Where the Idaho and Yellowstone wolves were captured.) Two of them unsuccessfully chased a bighorn ram for a short distance and then the entire pack (6)went uphill into some trees about 600 yards from me and commenced howling. I answered them and for the next half hour we carried on a conversation. With practice, I was able to imitate their howls well enough that a wolf pup came up behind me, thinking I was part of his pack. When he saw that I was obviously not a wolf, he ran past me toward the howling pack and reunited with them. They ceased howling when the pup joined them and left the area.
    The area abounded with bighorns, elk, mule deer, white tail deer and moose. It was not the biological desert that some wolf haters predict for the Idaho/Yellowstone area.

  8. Jeff Avatar

    I have had a couple close encounters with wolves in the Lamar, and twice in GTNP. One in particular happened during the park elk hunt. That occassion went from serene to scary fairly quickly. At first light, with a injured ankle I limped up a trail in the old Teton Pack’s territory. I spotted 6-7 black wolves and one eventually noticed me as I continued up a hill going away from them. After repeated attempts to spook the wolf failed, I eventually cracked off a shot from my rifle to spook the wolf away. It actively stalked me across Uhl Draw from about 400 yds to less than 100 in three distinct moves, it sprinted when I turned my back and froze when I faced him. I think it was curious as I was downwind, and injured–however it gave me a new more realistic perspective of wolves. Being stalked by a big animal is really intense. Just as a wild horse rides as a kid gave me a different perspective on horses and their ability to inflict injury, this encounter changed my view on wolves. I’m not necessarily afraid of wolves, but I do think people are naive about wolf encounters because there are simply too many variables at play. Someone protecting a dog on a trail could certainly get injured.

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      I had pretty much the opposite experience. A friend from Montana and I were driving the Alaska highway in 1975 when wolves were a rarity to people from the Rockies. A big black lame wolf limped across the road near Contact Creek on the B.C.-Yukon border and disappeared. I jumped out with camera and, like an idiot, ran into the thick after it hoping to get a photo. I soon found myself in the foliage not many feet away staring into those piercing amber eyes and it dawned on me that he was probably very hungry! He let me back up the bank and leave. Of course, I knew it was perfectly safe because nobody had ever been killed by a wolf in North America — but the experience still gave me pause!

  9. Mike Avatar

    It seems the scary wolves hone in on low IQ’s…..

    1. WM Avatar

      ++… wolves hone in on low IQ’s.++ Grizzly bears, too.

      Mike, be afraid, …..very afraid.

  10. Paul White Avatar
    Paul White

    Well, it’s probably an evolutionary artifact to be at least a little nervous around alpha predators. I’m pretty sure people that walked up and played with them didn’t pass on their genes 😉

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Paul White,

      I think so. Perhaps one reason why attacks by predatory animals make the news and cause a stir is that for many thousands of years we were in real jeopardy of being eaten. Being chased by a tiger is good (classic?) fear compared to being chased by bill collectors.

      Death by crocodile has a solid ring.

      It’s true fear versus anxiety.

      1. Bogo Avatar

        Something to think about. What are we without our technology? I’ll give you a hint, it’s a 4 letter word.

      2. JEFF E Avatar
        JEFF E

        if it bleeds it leads

  11. Jeff Avatar

    The gaze of a predator at close range is definetly very powerful. I’ve also crossed paths with a cougar in SW Colorado and it stared at me for 20-30 seconds at about 50 yards before bounding off into the aspens. All I had was a fishing rod—it was one of the most magical moments I’ve ever had in the outdoors, but it sent a serious buzz down my spine. Moose and even a bold coyote on our local trail have also evoked a similar responses.

  12. Jeff N. Avatar
    Jeff N.

    I reposted this comment from another thread.

    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.

    1. Save bears Avatar

      Jeff I have had both great encounters with wolves as well as aggressive encounters with wolves, both types of encounters do happen, so you can shake your head and laugh, I on the other hand will always stay alert when I am in their territory, which for the most part I am almost every day..

      1. Jeff N. Avatar
        Jeff N.

        I always stay alert when I’m in the sticks, whether it be for wildlife or other dangers, such as the occasional, paranoid trigger happy hunter who, when he heres a branch break, assume it’s an aggressive wolf approaching and starts spraying lead (this has happened, and the guy doing the shooting shot his hunting companion, the story was posted here). So yes staying alert is wise. I think the majority of the stories you here from hunters involving aggressive wolves can be traced directly back to the fact that many hunters dislike wolves and they exaggerate the curious nature of the wolf to fit into their little agenda of portraying the wolf as some vicious killer circling below the tree that these hunters are forced to climb, just out of reach from the menacing jaws of the devil dog.

        I have no doubt that wolves will raise a little hell if they are bumped from a meal, or if a human enters a denning area or rendezvous area, but the exaggeration from some people (usually hunters) is a little hard to believe. So as I said…I shake my head and laugh.

      2. Jeff N. Avatar
        Jeff N.

        My post should read “hears a branch break” not “heres”

  13. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    On a related note — a memorial service was held for Romeo today.

    1. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      Romeo was a story about a degenerate hunter that just couldn’t stand people relating to and having joy around an animal that is all too often killed for no reason. I hope he has nothing but misfortune. I’m sure he doesn’t give a shit at all the sorrow his actions caused people! That lack of empathy trait rearing it’s ugly head once again

      1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
        SEAK Mossback

        I agree completely about the callous disregard for the joy of others, but I don’t think this really has anything to do with being a hunter or not. I know for a fact that two of the people quoted in the article, Joel Bennett and Nick Jans, hunt deer locally. In fact, Jans who wrote the book “Glacier Wolf”, admitted he killed a number of wolves during his former life as a school teacher in the Eskimo village of Ambler on the Kobuk River. I have no idea about the perpetrator’s state of mind — he did publicly apologize — but I do think there have been consequences, not just the legal consequences for violating state law (that could give this particular animal no weight beyond any other), but certainly social consequences that he clearly feared or wouldn’t have had his out-of-state friend take it in for sealing. I’m certain that many people he has to deal with frequently in this town take a very dim view of what he did. People who cared went to considerable lengths and were successful in making sure he faced both types of consequences. They successfully upheld values shared by many here, but I would not say they upheld a particular “culture”. Hopefully, watching someone face both legal consequences and the consequences of getting cross-wise with the prevailing values of his community will have some effect on others similarly tempted in the future, but it’s like any crime or socially unacceptable behavior — there are no surefire deterrents.

  14. william huard Avatar
    william huard

    Seak- I agree with your comments. And i’ll add at least the people in that community made Myers feel the cultural stigma of the killing. How are we to know if he is truly sorry? He apologized, but people like him usually don’t think of any consequences when they poach or kill an animal, they think they are smarter than everyone else


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.

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Ralph Maughan