"Face to Face with a Cold Blooded Killer"
Written by Chad Schow
My newfound desire for backpack hunting began last fall when my hunting partner and I experienced the quality and quantity of big game animals found miles beyond the last road or trail. This year's goal was to acquire the necessary equipment required to spend 3 or 4 nights hunting the backcountry on foot. Being the compulsive and determined big game hunter that I am, my collection of gear was complete in early May. A spring bear hunt would be the perfect excuse for me to test out my new gear and future hunting style.
A great group of friends offered this opportunity and invited me on their 23rd annual spring bear hunt to Cobalt, Idaho. A variety of big game animals were known to roam the area that I would be hunting. My goal was to experience the challenges of backpack hunting and explore this remote section of Idaho with the possibility of harvesting an Idaho bruin as a bonus. A brief introduction to the vast country that has taken my hosts years to explore consumed the first couple days of the hunt.
Saturday May 31st, 2003 very well could have been the beginning of the end of my back-county backpack hunting adventures. Scattered storm clouds and distant thunder rocked the sky. The weather forecast predicted the night to be dry and lows were to be in the high 30's. Welcome to the Rocky Mountains in the springtime! I felt I had good equipment and was well equipped to handle whatever Mother Nature would throw at me on this trip.
I was about 2 miles up the logging road when the first raindrop fell. I looked for cover but a recent fire had destroyed the trees in the immediate vicinity and I was left to huddle with my back to the storm in a vain attempt to keep my gear and myself as dry as possible. As the blanket of rain eased up I continued on with renewed determination to reach the ridge before dark and glass for a bruin.
I reached the top of the mountain via a closed logging road in approximately 3 hours. The road ended roughly 100 yards below the top of the ridge and from that point offered a great view of the southern clear cuts. Not only was the ground flat on the road, the lodge pole pines provided adequate cover in case of another rain shower. I decided this would provide an ideal location for my first night alone in the backcountry. Or so I thought….
As I unbuckled and dropped my 42-pound pack frame I heard a faint, unfamiliar noise. I didn't pay much attention to it at first and wrote it off as a bird. I heard the strange noise again as I began to unload my gear, but this time closer. The call was similar to a high pitch owl hoot but louder, more hollow and powerful. When I heard the strange sound for the third time, I knew something was not right. The hair on my neck stood up knowing by the tone of the call, my presence was not welcome.
A flash of gray at less than 25 yards sent a sudden charge of fear through my body. Preparing to defend myself, I quickly reached for my rifle and chambered in a round. Hearing movement in the brush above me I turned to look and was shocked to find myself staring face to face with a cold-blooded killer, the infamous Canadian Grey Wolf. Time stood still while our eyes locked for several seconds anticipating who was going to make the first move. Not wanting to become an unfavorable statistic in the fight against wolves, I raised my rifle to defend myself in case the wolf rushed me. Fortunately for both of us, the wolf turned and disappeared into the timber.
After assuming the wolf retreated, I somewhat felt fortunate to have seen a wolf in the wild. However, I quickly learned how naïve I was about wolves when after no more than a minute had gone by the distinctive call rang out for a fourth time. My mind began to race as I quickly realized that I could be in real trouble. Were there more wolves? Was it calling for backup? Was it gathering the pack as if to say I have found an intruder or worse, dinner? Was it protecting a den full of pups? I still don't know.
Concerned that my life was in danger, I decided the best course of action was to anticipate a possible attack rather than flee the mountain in panic. I feared the pack was close by as I slowly sidestepped back down the logging road scanning the area for another sighting with my rifle ready to fire. Once I had reached a comfortable location 30 yards down the road, I convinced myself that the wolf or wolves were gone. After all, "wolves don't attack humans", right? As I turned to head back for my gear the wolf appeared directly above me at less than 20 yards! It had paralleled me down the road in a stalk attempt awaiting an opportunity to strike. Fearing the potential penalties for killing an endangered species, I placed my cross hairs 3 feet behind the wolf and fired. Accepting my warning, the wolf escaped out of sight.
At this point I was really spooked and wanted nothing more than to get back to my truck and safety. My adrenaline was red lining as I hurried to gather my gear. My legs turned to jell-o and my heart pounded uncontrollably as I rapidly descended the ridge. Four hundred yards later, I stopped to catch my breath and gather my wits'.
Unexpectedly, a squirrel scampered up a tree behind me and nearly put my control over the edge! I quickly changed my mind about resting and continued my retreat down the mountain. I encountered seven piles of wolf scat on the way out that were all full of elk hair, further evidence that a pack of aggressive wolves were in the immediate area. The real fear built up after the fact, knowing what could have happened if the wolf or wolves decided to attack me. I have read other stories about cougar attacks, bear attacks and how the victim had "that feeling" of being watched or followed. Imagine a pack of wolves following you the next time you are alone in the mountains. I feel fortunate to have escaped from this encounter unharmed. I believe that my close encounter was a result of wolves having no fear of man. This is true because they are not hunted and are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
So repeat this phrase to yourself the next time you are in Idaho's great outdoors or better yet anywhere in the western United States where wolves have been re-introduced, "wolves don't attack humans", and I hope you are right. Did a wolf attack me? I guess it depends on what you consider an attack. I may not have been physically attacked because I was able to fire a warning shot but it's only a matter of time before the next victim is.
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