By Kathleen Kalina
President of Womenhunters
A crack of the 30.06 put down a buck running at 250 yards in the valley. Suddenly, the steep hill across the valley came alive with hidden wolves running toward the downed deer. The buck jumped up and started to climb a vertical hill with a fresh foot of snow. One more shot hit the buck as it climbed and the wolves gained on it. Sumac bushes swallowed the animals forcing me to rush to retrieve my deer before the wolves got him.
Wolf pack on the move (L. David Mech Photo)
The steep hill that the buck dragged himself up was covered with bushy sumacs. I could no longer see the wolves or the deer. The hill was only 200 yards from the Quebec border, but still inside Vermont where I lived in 1997. The fresh new foot of snow made it hard to see where the bridge over a stream was located. While going over the bridge, the snow was covering holes that were broken recently. I fell through the hole and straight into the stream driving my 30.06 deep into the mud bottom. The water was only a foot deep and the mud helped soften the blow, but getting back on shore, required rolling up on to the shoulder and expunging the water and mud from my coveralls. I went back in for my rifle and pulled it out of the mud rubbing it on the snow since I had no non-muddy clothes to wipe it.
I wiped the gun as fast as possible so it could fire, but my gloves were so slippery, that not much mud except what the snow could wipe off was gone. I hoped the gun would fire if I needed it too. When I got to the spot of the initial shot, there was a lot of blood, so I knew that the deer wasn’t too far up the hill. With my muddy rifle across my back, I climbed the steep hill grabbing sumac bushes as ropes. The snow made it less slippery. As I climbed, I could heard growling, low barks and snapping. At the top, I slowly peeked over the hill to see the buck surrounded by 6-7 wolves who were circling him and snapping. The buck was down but swinging his antlers at each wolf who dared to snap too close. I figured that if I shot a wolf, the others would charge me, but if I put the buck out of his misery, the wolves would scatter.
Grabbing the slippery rifle, I pressed the wood into my shoulder only to see the scope was covered in mud and couldn’t be wiped clean. Mud slimed my face. I looked under the scope and squeezed off a round. The noise of the loud 30.06 scattered the wolves in an instant and the deer was dead.
Now, I realized that I had only a few minutes to get the deer out of there before the wolves returned. So I gutted him to give the wolves a gut-pile to munch on and leave me alone while I escaped. I wasn’t cold despite the weather, I was exhausted and sweating. I wrapped a dragging rope around the antlers and dropped the buck down the hill. He continued to get hung up on the bushes, but it was easier than going up hill.
Below the hill, I pulled him toward the stream as fast as I could. The incline and snow allowed a smooth pull and even floating him through the stream wasn’t too bad. The haul bogged down when the incline started up. Everywhere in Vermont was either up or down with very little flat areas. At a stop, I thought I could probably get my truck in there.
My worry was that while I was getting the truck, the wolf pack might eat my deer. So I took off my orange jacket and wrapped it around the deer. I put my deer license inside the mouth in case another hunter tried to steal him and at the deer registry they always open the mouth to measure the teeth. It would be then that my license would fall out.
Wolf eating deer (USFW photo)
I trekked the long way to find my friend and get the truck. Just as I got near to my friends position, I thought I was going to collapse…breathing hard, clothes frozen with mud and gun a mess. Suddenly, I saw Carol Nepton she was walking the trail toward me. She looked at me and was horrified “What happened?” I didn’t realize what I looked like covered in mud including half of face. All I could say was “Buck…big buck….get truck.” I stopped and rested while she brought the truck and I jumped in.
Relieved when we arrived by truck to the deer, it was there. However, when I stood over the deer I noticed wolf tracks had circled the deer several times. I searched to see where the tracks went and I could not see the wolves. But they were watching us.
We worked quickly to get the deer into the truck. Suddenly, a man came out of the woods and admired the buck and helped us lift it into the truck. I was glad I had put the license in the deer’s mouth. He explained that he was hunting over near the Canadian side.
Wolf wait for prey (Kalina photo)
In February, we snow-shoed back into that area to see what the wolves were doing. It was clear that they sat on that hill about 20 yards apart and ran down on deer who came through the valley. There were remnents of alot of deer pieces.
Wolves stand behind trees as they prepare to attack. Their coloring matches the trees making them invisible from a distance. (Kalina photo)
February is when wolves den up and mark their territory with the urine of the alpha wolf. The male alpha raises his leg and urinates on trees all around the perceived territory. (The subordinate males squat to urinate). If a bigger alpha comes in and raises the urine line higher, then the smaller wolf will recognize he must leave or fight.
Non Alpha male squats to urinate. Only the alpha male lifts the leg to urinate (Kalina Photo)
For about 2 months a pack will support a den of pups with food nearby, so they are careful to choose a good deer run. The pups grow very quickly and within 6 months they are larger than a german shepard and can join in the hunt.
Wolf pup two weeks old. (USFW). By 6 months they can kill a German Shepard.
When too many adult males grow up, there is a split in the pack with the biggest male and female becoming alphas of the new pack. Sometimes a male will challenge the existing alpha male and fight them to death. It is an ugly challenge. There can only be one alpha male and one alpha female per pack. The alphas eat first and they mate. The others have to wait until the alphas are done eating before they can eat, They are submissive to every command of the alphas. Younger grown females also challenge the alpha female. If a challenger loses and survives, he usually leaves the pack and searches to join or start another one. This is the time when a lone wolf may be seen.
Wolf tracks are 4 1/2 inches wide by 5 inches long. Domesticated dogs are more rounded and don't walk in straight line like a wolf. (Kalina photo)
If a lone wolf is lucky he will find a young pack that he can join without too much fighting. But if an established Alpha is in charge, he must fight him to the death.
If a pack loses their alphas to death, they will quickly absorb a new alpha or join another pack that is ready to split.
Howling is a key communication when looking for a new pack or trying to find their own pack. At evening if all members are happy with their food, they will also howl in a slightly different tone. Most communication within the pack is low growls or snaps. Only puppies play, by 6 months old a wolf is an adult and no longer plays (unlike the dog, who is a perpetual puppy).
If a lot of big game come through an area, either several moose or a lot of deer, several related packs may temporally merge or cooperate in the hunt. Unrelated packs are not known to cooperate. Sometimes howling signals to several related packs, but they don’t live together.
When wolves move into an area, they swoop in very fast and coyotes move out ahead of them. You won’t find coyotes living near wolves, because wolves kill coyotes. Wolves are the top predator, they will kill dogs, coyotes, deer, moose, birds and rabbits, voles etc. The wolf has no predator except man. In the wild a wolf will live 7 years if there is plenty of food. Some have lived longer. But during deep snow and low prey availability, wolves can get hurt or die of hunger or disease (same diseases as dogs). There is only one dog breed to every been recorded to have killed a wolf and that is the Irish Wolfhound. That was a single wolf vs the wolfhound in battle protecting a child. Most occurrences with wolf predation have a minimum of 5-6 working in a pack. When wolves chase down an animal such as a moose or deer, they surround it and bite it repeatedly while it runs, eating it alive until the animal succumbs. One deer for five wolves is a typical weekly diet.
In Alaska, Canada and the Northern United States there is only one species of wolf, (Canis lupus). There are some differences in subspecies, such as Alberta has a subspecies of the largest (200+lb) and most varied colored which includes some totally black and totally white wolves. The eastern branch of Canis lupus is more consolidated in its colors and size (120-170lb). United States Fish and Wildlife re-introduced wolves to Yellowstone park in the 1990’s taken from the larger Alberta subspecies. These packs multiplied and spread very quickly mixing the genetics with a larger size and white or black colored wolves.
Idaho Wolf 127# (unknown photographer)
Alberta wolf 200lbs (unknown photographer)
Stock animals killed by these introduced wolves were billed to USFW causing them to rethink the cost of this re-introduction. A cow can cost $2000 and horses much higher. In Minnesota a bill to USFW in 1999 came to $63,000.
Wolf attack on Moose (unknown photographer)
Ranchers, farmers and hunters very soon discovered that they were up against a predator like their ancestors had kept down. Demands to allow hunts in the U.S. to keep the wolf populations down have been successful in several states.
The Mexican Wolf (Canis ruffus) is a smaller and reddish looking wolf found in Mexico and sometimes in southern Texas. The behavior of this species is more aggressive toward humans and less hidden. About 10 years ago, US Fish and Wildlife decided to introduce some of these Canis ruffus to South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Hunters and farmers who have seen these animals have reported them as large aggressive coyotes. They are not coyotes, by an 80lb wolf.
Idaho, Montana, Alaska and now Minnesota (for 2012) reacted to the large population of wolfs and rising deaths to pets and lifestock by allowing public wolf hunts.
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