Most good wolf sightings are from the road in the Lamar Valley area. Wolves hear hikers and move out of sight, but not always. Trent Morrell sent me this most interesting account of a recent hike on Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone Park.
In early October, me and two of my friends traveled from Portland, Oregon to explore the Lamar Valley for three days of day hikes.
The first day, Friday 10/12/07, we chose to hike the Specimen Ridge Trail. We had hiked it the summer of 2006 and were looking forward to doing it in the fall.
As we climbed up the first mile, we saw over 100 elk hanging on the ridge line with many big bulls still bugling. Amped up, we continued to the top of the ridge glassing the elk frequently and listening to the never-ending bugles. Once on the ridge line, we followed the trail along the top admiring the huge elk antlers that had been shed. We saw more and more elk.
About three miles in from the trail head we rounded a corner to a flat point. Here we had a herd of about twenty elk about 40 yards at 12 o’clock, about fifty bison 250 yards below us in a meadow at 2 o’clock, about 20 bison 60 yards below us at 9 o’clock and next to them a herd of about twenty elk. In the area between the elk herd at 12 o’clock and the bison and elk herd at 9 o’clock was a thicket of trees. We had not even been there a minute when out of the thicket shot a wolf up a small hill and into the herd of elk at 12 o’clock. Then shot another wolf and another up into the elk. It was hard to tell, but at least six wolves came out of the thicket.
We watched in disbelief as two of the wolves separated a young cow elk from the herd and chased it down a hill to the bison at 2 o’clock. The young elk ran into the herd of bison. It ran back and forth from each side of the bison herd as the two wolves tried to get to it. The bison would not allow the wolves to get to the elk, but eventually the elk ran out of the herd of bison.
The wolves chased it less than twenty yards and took it down. As this was happening we saw even more wolves come out of the thicket and observed two of these wolves separate another cow elk, chasing her behind the thicket. After the first elk was taken down by the wolves I looked to 9 o’clock and saw the two wolves that had took chase to the second cow elk take her down right next to the bison. The bison immediately surrounded the cow elk and for close to five minutes would not let the wolves get to it.
Eventually the bison moved on and the wolves moved in. After the wolves had the cow elk down many of them began to howl for several minutes. We think we counted close to sixteen wolves. About half went down to feed on the elk kill below us at 2 o’clock. The other half fed on the kill below us at 9 o’clock. We watched them feed and their faces turn red with elk blood. As we watched the wolves eat, I glassed the slope behind us and spotted a big grizzly up on a slope turning over rocks and I think eating something. Soon a coyote showed up and watched the wolves eat. After the wolves finished eating and were lying in the sun sleeping their big meal off, we headed back to our truck.
I found it very interesting that the elk herd did not leave the area. In fact, the elk only moved about thirty yards from where the wolves first started to chase them. I was also amazed at how protective the bison were.
One wolf also sticks out as it seemed larger than the others was gray in color and had a radio collar on. I think it may have been the alpha because it was first to feed and it kept a close eye on us. In fact, after the wolves were done eating it even snuck up behind us to about 30 feet before I noticed it. Then it ran back to the rest of the wolves after we turned and faced it. My description does not do this experience justice, but I tried. My mind is still full of the sounds, smells, visions and awe at what we saw that day- it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life.