As many of you know I have been a hunter for 40 years and have taken all sorts of game. During that time I have always had a passion for predator hunting. They can be hunted year round and I think they are probably the most challenging animals to pursue. Over time I have hunted and taken bears, mountain lion and numerous coyotes. While out calling I have been fortunate enough to call in many other predators, ranging from bald eagles and a great horned owl to bobcats and a grizzly bear. Through it all, and at the very top of my list has always been what I consider to be the apex predator, the gray wolf. They have always been a federally protected species here in the “lower 48” and while I have seen and called them they have always been off limits. That all changed in 2009 when the state of Montana (and Idaho) had its first limited wolf hunting season. That year I had already been randomly drawn to receive one of seven highly coveted mountain goat tags for my area of Montana. When they approved a wolf hunt for the same time period I had some hard decisions to make. I made a few trips into some very rough high country to look for goats but just could not get myself interested in it with a wolf season in full swing. All of my friends thought I was nuts when I spent the rest of the season out calling for wolves with a mountain goat tag laying in the drawer back at home. To make a long story short, I had good success at locating and getting into wolves but was never able to find the large gray that I had set as a goal. I had an opportunity to shoot a young wolf that was coming into my howls and had closed to about 30 yards but there was still time left in the season so I let it go. Little did I know that only a few days later the state would close the season early and that numerous federal lawsuits would block the 2010 hunt and ultimately place the wolf back on the protected list. Many friends later asked me about my decision to pass on that wolf and possibly the only opportunity I would ever have in my life. Truthfully, I even questioned my decision a few times, but the bottom line is that it was the right call at the time and I am good with that.
Well here we are in 2011, and the gray wolf is off the protected list and is once again properly classified as a game animal. With wolf numbers up and big game (deer, elk, and moose) numbers down it was certainly time to start letting the states effectively manage them. The Montana season started September 3rd and wolves could only be hunted with archery equipment. I hunt with a long bow and was out at least part of every day during that season. I have no idea how many miles I walked but I never found any fresh sign or heard so much as a howl. The archery season closed on October 16th and I was definitely feeling the pressure. On October 22 the general hunting season opened and I was once again out in the woods pursuing wolves (with bear, deer, elk and a limited draw cow elk tags in the drawer at home)! Three days later on October 25th I had taken more time off from work and was hunting a very large drainage in the mountains north of my home. I had hiked in a little over 3 miles on a gated road when at about 9:30 in the morning I came to an intersection of three trails. There I found some frozen wolf scat (poop) in the trail. Now I knew I was at least in the right area. A few steps further and I found some still warm (don’t ask) wolf scat and a still wet urine puddle. Since the temperature was only 21 degrees,I knew they had to be very close. I tried for a minute to figure out which of the paths they might have taken. After looking around for a moment I decided that the best place for me to set up would be right there in that intersection as it afforded me the best visibility to see something coming in to my calls. I stepped off the trail into a group of several large pine trees that would afford me a little bit of cover.
I was using a Flextone rabbit distress call and began blowing a sequence of sounds on it. I had been calling for less than two minutes when I heard something crashing through the woods directly behind me and it was coming in fast. I knew that it was going to be either a wolf or a bear coming in that hard since in my experience, coyotes and lions make little if any noise on their approach. As I spun around I was already bringing up my rifle to be ready. Looking back now, I clearly remember that as I turned I could see a wolf bounding through the brush coming straight in at me, I also recall seeing in my peripheral vision, the movement of another wolf off to my right side. The wolf coming at me was a very large male with a dark face and bright golden color eyes. In that instant I knew that this was the wolf I had dreamed of for so many years. In the split second that it took for me to turn and raise my rifle the wolf upon seeing my movement came to a
complete stop at a distance of eighteen yards and stared straight at me. I will forever remember looking into those wild golden eyes as I aimed just under his chin for the center of the chest. I don’t recall hearing the gun blast or feeling the recoil of the shot, I just remember seeing him go down and as I chambered another round I ran down to be sure that it was over.
As I stood there looking at this amazing animal, I immediately heard the short howl of another wolf and then the very sharp alert barks of at least two more who were hidden nearby in the timber. The barking from the other wolves subsided after a few minutes as they retreated back into the wilderness. Once the woods became quiet, I realized that I was literally shaking from excitement. I sat down on a log near this amazing creature and just soaked in the beauty of the woods and the features of this amazing animal now lying at my feet. In all my time hunting I have never experienced an emotion like that. This hunt was truly the culmination of years of planning, preparation and countless miles hiked into the backcountry. It was at that moment that I understood what all of the successful hunters throughout time have understood, it had all been worth it!
P.S. The bioligist aged him at 3-4yrs and said that he was the biggest one checked in to date. I don't have an exact weight but he was way too big for me to carry. My buddy hiked in and helped me haul him out on a game cart. He was 5'9" from nose to tail at the taxidermist before he was skinned. As a reference, I am 6'3" and those boots next to his feet are size 13! He is becoming a rug even as we speak. And yes the orange is necessary, the Montana rifle season is on.