DAY 11 - Sunday, February 26


This morning it is downright “warm” at 26 degrees!

I head off in the dark, crossing my fingers that I’ll see wolves on my last day for a while.

When I get to Soda Butte east, Rick has already been here scoping for about 10 minutes. He reports nothing yet, no howling, either. Laurie says it’s a good strategy for the wolves to stay hidden in the trees.

I stop again at Dorothy’s but find nothing but bison. I wonder if I’ll ever see wolves in Lamar again? There are almost no tracks to be seen. If there is no game, why would there be wolves?

We hear the magic words while waiting at the light. It’s Michael. He has wolves from Hellroaring.

He radios again that Upper is jammed so we stop and set up at Lower. As you know, I always prefer this lot, as long as the view is possible.

Today is our lucky day. I see Junctions right where I first saw the “third” gray yesterday. The pack seems to have just emerged from their hiding spot below, using the trail behind the ridge.

They are definitely in traveling mode. A line of seven or eight leaders heads to the west, but many are finding their own way, trotting in twos and trees in the same direction. Three or four wolves make a quick visit to the carcass, and two of them grab something for the road.

Two blacks, one collared, take a trail uphill above the carcass, to the place several of them were bedded yesterday. One soon turns around and comes back down. The other beds down. This one is not in the mood to travel I guess!

I count 16 so far. When they are scattered it’s very hard to count and today there is quite a bit of individual roaming. As usual we also see carefree play by the pups. When you have 15 pups in a pack there are just too many playmates to choose from, and they just don’t stay still.

I recognize the alpha male, 907F and 1276F in the “disciplined” group at the front.

We have them in good view for over a half hour, but then they disappear around the bend. Instead of the more “direct” route past Tornado drainage, they seem to be going towards the Cottonwood drainage.

The single black bedded on the hill above the carcass howls a few times but I hear no response from the pack. Turns out, this is 1386F, AKA, New Mom. It seems that she wants to go east instead of west. Clearly, she is outvoted.

She is now the only wolf in view.

After maybe 15 minutes, Michael finds the main pack again, on a rocky nob. I don’t think I’ve ever seen wolves here before, although I have scanned it many times.

It’s full of scattered boulders, stunted trees and short bushes, maybe junipers. Some of the taller trees have “wells” around their trunks, where the snow has already melted out (or never accumulated).

There are wolves moving in various spots on this knob. They seem to be roaming around, not focused on one place, maybe just looking for a place to bed. A gray goes under the branches of a tree into the “tree well”. Two others are already bedded close together near a large fallen log. A few pups play on a boulder.

It's a bit tricky to find them as the knob affords abundant camouflage. Unless a wolf is moving, it’s nearly impossible to see.

I find 907F and the alpha male walking past a distinctive tree. She finds a tree-well to her liking and beds there. Other wolves roam here and there. A collared gray pins a pup.

Laurie watches 1276F who is off on a walkabout away from the others. She goes to the far end of the knob and perches on her haunches, overlooking the area below. Ahh, she may be watching 1386F. Hmm.

Someone sees 1382F (former alpha female) being chased, but I miss it.

A black and gray head downslope below 1276F’s perch. We hear off and on howling. 1386F gets up and visits the carcass a while. Then she moves a bit east. Shortly afterwards I notice a large uncollared gray in the same area, howling.

1276F begins to howl from her perch.

A second gray shows up in carcass area. I’m not sure where this wolf came from. Maybe it came up from below and is just now getting around to following the pack. This wolf beds for a while about 20 yards from the carcass.

1276F gets up and goes down the hill to the flats.

I notice a collared gray with a tightly tucked tail and a submissive, hunched over posture, heading towards the hill the pack is on, trying to avoid 1276F. I doubt she’ll allow that. Her tail goes up sky high and she heads right to the cowering gray, pinning it.

Once 1276 has made her point, she leaves and goes west. But then 1386F comes over and pins the same submissive gray. While she is pinning the gray, the previously bedded uncollared gray rushes over and mounts 1386!

The mounting does not last long enough for a tie, but I’m pretty sure that was the gray’s intention. Laurie and I think the gray is likely 1340M.

We never find out who the submissive gray was, but the most likely candidate is 1384. I think 1341F would not have been so submissive. Maybe to 1276 but not to 1386. Just my opinion.

Shortly after this, all the wolves near the carcass return to the rocky knob and join the pack. A little while later, the alpha pair gets up and moves to the edge of the knob, close to where 1276 was perched for a bit.

They head down the hill and find a spot to re-bed.

After a few days of no wolves at all, this last day has turned out to be the best of all. Plenty of wolf action and behavior to watch and puzzle over, along with good friends to share it with.

Around 11:30 most of the wolves are bedded for the day. I begin to say my goodbyes and then head home to Bozeman.

I stop in a high pullout on the new/old road to thank Allison for her help.

The roads are mostly dry on the way out of Gardiner. I stop for a herd of mule deer to cross, and see lots of bison on both sides of the highway.

By the time I get to Livingston, it has warmed up to 46!

Today I saw: bison, coyote, mule deer, elk, 18 Junction wolves (including alpha male, 907F, 1276F, 1339M, 1340M, 1382F, 1386F, plus 10 more, and the spirits of Allison, Richard and Jeff.

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