Group Stumbles into Wolf Ground
Star-Tribune / Whitney Royster / July 6, 2005
Jackson -- This Independence Day is one Allen Hicks and Pegg Olson will never forget.
It's a day the Jackson couple, along with Olson's dog, Moby -- a heeler mix -- went for a hike north of Jackson in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and walked right into a pack of wolves.
"Basically, it was a showdown," a still-shaky Hicks said Tuesday.
At about 1:30 p.m. Monday, the trio parked, and began walking into a draw on the Bridger-Teton. They were barely a quarter-mile in when Olson looked up the hill and saw four wolf pups running toward them.
"My first instinct was like, 'Cool! Wolf pups!"' Hicks recalled.
Olson's first reaction? "To me, when I saw babies, I knew the mother was there and that spelled trouble."
But the trouble was with the father.
"He was a very, very, very aggressive animal," Hicks said. "He would not back off of us. He chased us for probably two miles. At one point he was probably 10 or 12 feet away from us."
Hicks said the male essentially pushed the trio out of the area. Olson said she was "death gripping" her dog's collar to keep him close. The alpha male was baring his teeth, chomping and snarling with his ears
back, as though he were about to attack, Hicks said.
All this is "typical" behavior of wolves in this type of rare situation, sparked almost certainly because of the dog, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Wyoming Wolf Recovery Coordinator Mike Jimenez.
Wolves will not attack, he said, but will act "very aggressively."
The trouble started when the group began hiking in a wolf rendezvous site -- an area one step up from a den site -- where adults raise pups, giving them more space, and where they bring food.
"That kind of aggressive, confrontational,
escorting-you-out-of-the-area, that's how wolves do business," Jimenez said.
Jimenez said it was the dog that posed the threat to the wolves, not the people. He said the couple was lucky their dog was not attacked and
Hicks said the male wolf, who kept following them even after the female had taken the pups away was "easily" twice the size of his 85-pound dog.
"Even after (the female left with the pups), he would not back off," said Hicks, who admitted to being "anti-wolf."
"It was like he was hunting us. This is the first up-close violent wolf encounter I've ever, ever had."
Hicks said the wolf kept lunging at the group, even after the 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound man picked up an old utility pole to swing at the animal.
"I was swinging that thing for all I could," he said. "He kept coming, and backing off."
Jimenez said he has experienced the same behavior when he, too, inadvertently came near a rendezvous or den site.
"They are very vocal, they confront, they didn't attack, and they literally escort you out of the area by barking and howling and literally intimidating you until you leave the area," Jimenez said. "So it's not an unusual behavior on their part."
Jimenez compared the experience to walking into a grizzly sow with a cub, which likely would have resulted in a mauling.
"Wolves don't kill people, but they definitely respond very aggressively, and it was the dog that caused that," he said. "These are wild animals and I think people forget sometimes, with wolf watching, you walk into an area where you're threatening their young. The fact there is a dog, which wolves see is a real threat, that's what wolves are responding to."
Hicks said the wolf confronted the group for well over an hour, and even when they were out of the draw and into the open, the male watched them from atop a butte.
"I looked back and kept that post, I kept my eye on him and he sat on a butte and sat there and watched and at one point he was pacing," Hicks said. "We were a mile away then. It was like he was pissed, basically. He was very angry. They're nothing to monkey with."
Hicks said he wanted to share his story to help people possibly avoid a confrontation. Both Hicks and Jimenez said having dogs on a leash would have helped reduce the intensity of the conflict.
For Olson, though, the entire situation was "unreal. Just completely surreal."
"It was the pure panic of the situation," she said. "I couldn't believe that every time I turned around that wolf was right there. It was unreal. Really scary. I wouldn't want to ever do it again. That was an experience to have only one time."
Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260
or at firstname.lastname@example.org.