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Tale of a Wolf Hunt - by Tony Vagneur

Tale of a wolf hunt - by Tony Vagneur

March 19, 2005

It's a gray, foggy morning in mid-April as the wolf silently pads her way over the pine-covered Montana mountainside. She weighs about a hundred pounds, a little heavier this time of year, but glides effortlessly on feet that appear too big for her body, her back undulating almost indiscernibly as she moves with a single purpose toward a place she will know immediately on sight. With all probability, she is the alpha female of a small pack, a group who, for whatever reasons, is seeking out new territory beyond the relative safety of Yellowstone National Park.

In a chance encounter that belies fate, a Montana hunting guide (or an anachronistic rancher, or simply a ruddy-faced, squint-eyed defender of an aberrant, modern-day West) sees the lone female crossing a portion of his land and takes aim with a high-powered and well-scoped rifle, allowing himself to become judge and jury over the worth of the animal's life, not realizing that his knowledge of this, or any wolf, is highly subjective and may be inferior to that of a city-slicker who has actually read up on canis lupus.

If he is a hunting guide, he shoots the wolf out of fear that predation will deplete the elk herds he depends on for a livelihood, somehow unaware that overpopulation and drought are far more deadly to an elk herd than a wolf pack.

Montana outfitter James Hubbard, worried about wolves "killing the industry" and as quoted recently by the Associated Press, says: "They (hunters) used to see so many (elk) it was unreal." If Hubbard and others like him listen to knowledge about wolves as well as they listen to themselves, it's no wonder wolves are in danger. "Unreal" numbers of elk may be in direct correlation to a lack of "real" predators such as wolves, not to mention the natural rise and fall in herd numbers.

In November 2004, the Alaska Board of Game, in its infinite wisdom (and in capitulation to outfitters), opened more land in eastern Alaska, near the Canadian border, to aerial and ground wolf hunting. Today in Alaska, 60,000 square miles are now open to the hunting of wolves and it is estimated that 2,000 to 2,500 wolves may be killed in 2005, roughly a third of the Alaskan wolf population.

Catching the wolf in mid-stride, a poorly placed bullet tears into her haunch, knocking her to the ground. Killing wolves is a new thing, just recently legalized in parts of the lower 48 (due to de-listing of wolves as an "endangered" species and being put under state, rather than federal control), and it will take some time to sharpen up the marksmanship skills needed to be an effective "wolfer."

With her backside paralyzed, the frantic wolf tries valiantly to raise herself on still-agile front legs to escape the terrible nightmare enveloping her, but it's useless. Struggling to fulfill an ancient desire, she wants only to find the den site and deliver her pups, giving life to a new pack in a new territory. She doesn't understand why she can't.

The man with the rifle warily approaches his "trophy," afraid something still alive like that, even though half paralyzed, may offer a danger to himself. Originating with the mother who bore him years before, a glimmer of compassion momentarily overcomes the man and he timidly puts the last bullet home, causing instantaneous death. The five pups in her belly die soundlessly, with hardly a squirm, as their lifeline, the umbilical cord, shuts down. Just as quietly, the future of this wolf pack becomes almost as bleak as the now-lifeless body lying on the cold ground.

That night, the remaining wolves may howl toward Sirius, the "Wolf Star," not only for the loss of the pregnant female, but because they feel a sadness for the insecure and misdirected humans who, lacking a desire to understand, cause so much pain and destruction to North American wolves.

It has been suggested that wolves are second in intelligence only to man, but when one realizes that wolves are not compelled by fear and ignorance to destroy their brothers upon the earth, that ranking may be suspect.

Wolves traveling to Colorado will need all the help and understanding they can get. Reach Tony Vagneur at ajv@sopris.net

*  Once again, a special Thank-you to Tony Vagneur, columnist for the Aspen Times, for allowing Wolf Howl Animal Preserve to share his work with our supporters.

**Another Thanks to Monty Sloan for use of his excellent Wolf Pictures.  See more of Monty's work at the Wolf Park
website or purchase his wonderful photos at the Wolf Photography site.

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