Today is Saturday, August 19, 2017

Camp Wolf

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A wolf pack circles a mature buffalo in deep snow. Wolves are major predators of many big game.

It was a quiet night, just the right quiet. He played the harmonica softly, just fooling around with a tune. The miles and toll of the weather showed in his perpetually tanned face. The Doc sat with eyes closed, just listening, not dozing.

They had covered miles that day, resting themselves and the horses less often that they would have liked. Now, supper resting comfortably in their bellies, the camp was secure and dry, the horses cared for and hobbled in the small meadow near the creek.

It was dark, an impenetrable dark if you tried to look past the light of the fire. Even the stars were hidden despite the sky being mostly clear. There would be frost in the morning and quite possibly a skim of ice on the water buckets. In a day or so, maybe sooner, it could snow. The elk would move and be vocal. If there were any elk left in the valley.

Doc was after a fat calf for his either sex tag. They both lived alone so a great deal of meat was not required. The younger man had a fat deer in his freezer. He thought a big bull would make enough ground meat to last more than a year even after giving a lot of it away. Mostly, they wanted to see if the rumors were true.

Doc let a minor chord hang in the air and by coincidence it was perfectly matched by a lone wolf howl that floated out from Tetons. Doc opened his eyes and slightly tilted his head to catch the last of the wavering tone.

"Goes good with an A minor," he whispered.

One of the horses snuffled in the meadow and stomped a foot. "She don't like wolves," said Elmore, the younger man.

"No, she don't," Doc replied.

"Can't say I care much for them either," said the youngster. "Flat don't agree with them restocking them, either. Just asking for trouble. Could be big-time trouble they start eatin calves. And they will. Sooner or later, they will."

Doc nodded. "They will certainly start with the elk and deer. As the packs grow and split, not only will they spread, they'll make a noticeable impact on the game numbers. Hate to hear them down this low this early and this far over."

"Yeah. Saw a pair up on the Shoshone flat a couple months ago. I probably should have shot them. Little S-S-S, Shoot-Shovel and Shut up. Doc, would you shoot one if you knew you could get away with it?"

"No, reckon not. But I would be tempted. I don't break game laws, even bad ones and neither do you. We don't work that way. I took my shot when I testified before the commission. They chose to ignore me. Now, when good honest but ignorant men start taking over the control of wolf populations and they start finding radio collars in the empty grain cars on the railroad, they will get all tore up."

He single note blew a few bars of Lineman for the County and a wolf was answered from a different direction. "Two of em about the start the night's hunt," said Doc. "I reckon they'll sing us to sleep in a bit. No need to worry about the horses...or us. They won't come too close, haven't had time to get use to humans. Yet."

He put the harp up and started nailing the camp down. Doc secured the fire and put one of the water buckets in the tent. Then, he started the small heater just to knock the chill of before the climbed into the sleeping bags.

The wind took a deep breath and changed directions, immediately becoming colder.

"Could have a dusting of snow up above Spread Crick by daylight. Won't hurt the huntin a bit," he said.

"Few days before real cold hits," the younger man said.

"I was in the Absorokey Notch last week and the aspens was just startin to turn. You can always bet you have two or three weeks before the cold comes hard. Besides, we'll have arrows in two and be gone in five days."

They closed the tent up and Doc zipped the door tight and cracked a side window just a hair.

They both stripped down to longhandles and rolled into their sleeping bags. It took a minute for him to find a comfortable way to lie, one that didn't hurt the old hip injury. He felt to make sure the long-barreled .44 was in easy reach.

"Haven't seen a bear this fall," he said softly. "I like that just as it is."

In the morning, they saddled up and continued scouting for elk sign. The season would open in three days. The first carcass they came upon was a doe mule deer. She had been dead long enough to make the cause of death hard to positively nail down. Doc did however, opine it looked like wolf doins to him.

A mile further up the small creek they came upon the mature bull elk. This time there was no question. From the condition of the body and the prints in the soft ground by the creek, it was obvious wolves had done the deed. Elk were a favorite target for wolves.

"I make it at least five," said Doc. "Looks to be two adults maybe three, maybe four younger ones. I reckon they is a split off from a larger pack. I got a feelin, huntin might be slim this year if the wolves have moved in here. I had no idea they come this far in such numbers."

Some years ago, wolves were transplanted from Canada and re-stocked in Yellowstone. They were fiercely protected and as predicted by many, they began to spread outside the boundaries of the park. They killed the wildlife voraciously and then started on cattle and sheep.

After a time, the states bordering the park -- Wyoming, Montana and Idaho --allowed hunting of wolves. Possibly it was too little too late. In the areas the wolves took over, the big game population dropped drastically. In some areas big game populations dropped to a critical stage. Some ranchers took hard hits.

This is just an example of why we have to be careful what we do with wildlife. There is a reason the early settlers, hunted wolf almost to extinction.

The reason was simple and two-fold. They, the settlers, needed both wild meat and domestic meat to live and to sell. Given the choice between wolves and elk, mule deer, cattle or sheep, they chose the latter.

Then, somewhere down the line, biologists and bunny huggers decided we really needed to have wolves again.

I suspect Canada was only too glad to provide them. Most of the Canadian provinces that have wolves, allow both hunting and trapping of them. To some degree, it keeps them within a somewhat livable number.

Unfortunately, now, wolves have decided they can kill humans, too.

The only truly effective method to manage wildlife is by hunting. Importing or re-stocking natural predators is not a viable solution. The main reason being, a predator will always take the easiest target. For example, a sheep is much easier for a wolf to kill than an elk or deer. So are humans for that matter.

Wolves may be romantic, interesting and beautiful to watch. I have seen them and I have seen them kill. I agree they are beautiful.

However, they are also killing machines and they do not just kill to eat. They kill, I believe, simply because it is fun. That is why they may kill 170 sheep at one time and not eat a one. Or kill a dozen caribou calves just because they can.

"Yep," Doc said, "before the wolves, this was prime hunting.

"Now, I expect we are looking at what may be one of the last elk in this valley. I reckon we might as well pack up and head sommers else."

CONTACT THE AUTHOR AT -- jsloan1944@gmail.com

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