DAY NINE - Monday, October 30


It’s only 3 degrees this morning. But the moon is out, making everything bright and silvery. Later, it drops below zero to a low of minus 5!

The poor little bison calves are getting an early dose of how harsh winter can be.

At Trash Can I see a familiar car. Wolf watcher Matt has arrived. Yay!

I stop to scope from Dorothys and find two bull elk. I am just about to head to Slough when Laurie radios to “come east”.

I join them at Footbridge. They have 907F to the north, standing in sage. Laurie fills me in that there more wolves in view earlier, chasing elk unsuccessfully.

A few more wolves come into view near 907. They are all looking south, where the elk went. Then they turn east and start to go out of sight.

When we lose them, we drive to Eastern Curve to look back.

On the hill above 480’s crossing I see a lone bison cow surrounded by wolves about 2/3rds of the way up the hill. After a moment or two I see a calf at her side. The wolves are after the calf.

I count six, eight, ten excited wolves, tails high, taking random lunges at the calf, avoiding the cow’s horns and hooves. Some of them are clearly young wolves that don’t quite know what to do.

907F is bedded slightly higher on the slope, watching.

I have never seen such an attack. It is fascinating and terrible all at the same time.

A collared black (likely 1385F) is the most aggressive of them all. She lunges at the calf a dozen times, making contact at least three times. The calf is already injured at its rear, judging from the visible blood.

Two grays are also persistent. Most of the others lunge and retreat without much skill, and a few others stand close by watching with high, excited tails. The alpha male participates for a while, but then stays back.

Laurie says the alphas are content to let the young ones do the work for a change.

The calf sits down periodically, and the cow continues to turn this way and that, trying to keep the wolves at bay with her head and horns. She is not panicked but calm and persistent in her defense of her little one.

My heart goes out to the calf as it seems quite bewildered. Yet when a wolf lunges in for a bite, the calf kicks out with a back leg quite forcefully, knocking the wolf backwards. The third time the calf kicks, the wolf moves elsewhere.

While I watch this terrible drama, I am once again struck by the lack of coordination in the pack. To me they each seem to be working on their own, lunging in when an opportunity presents itself, and backing off or veering out of harm’s way when the cow or calf fights back.

I don’t see any coordination between them – such as one wolf keeping the cow’s attention while others sneak bites at the calf. I suppose if they were that good at working together bison numbers would plummet.

I remember Jeremy telling me that when at 10 or more wolves attack a bison, their success percentage rises.

I feel awful for the calf. What a nightmare! I wish it could be dispatched quickly or get away altogether. When it sits to protect its injuries, you can feel its pain. Mom is doing a terrific job to keep the wolves off balance, preventing them from getting the upper hand.

A bison herd of maybe 30 animals is bunched on the next slope, about 200 yards away. This could be the herd that this cow and calf were part of. No one seems to know how the pair became separated from the herd; whether they were targeted and separated by the wolves or whether the wolves found them lagging too far behind.

At the moment 3 blacks 3 grays are the main attackers. It goes on like this for a good 20 minutes.

The alpha male moves to the right and beds down. Some others join him and bed down, willing to watch as other wolves continue the attack.

Whenever the wolves back off a bit, the calf sits down. The cow then turns and licks her baby, giving it reassurance.

After maybe 45 minutes, the wolves start to run out of energy or determination (or both). More and more of them turn to bed down, leaving 1385F in charge. A few of them rest a few minutes, then rejoin 1385. Then one or two back off again for a rest.

Fay finds a grizzly above them in the tree line. I catch a quick glimpse of the bear but it’s not out very long.

As more and more wolves back off, leaving fewer to sustain the attack, the bison mom starts to inch a bit down the hill, further and further. Her calf dutifully follows. At first, this strikes me as a bad strategy; that she is better off remaining on higher ground.

But as it turns out, I am wrong.

The bison mom is aware that the herd has begun to move slowly towards her, not “coming to the rescue” as bison sometimes do, but just following the contour of the hillside in search of their next grazing spot.

The closer the herd gets, the further the cow and her calf inch downhill to intercept them. Several bedded wolves get up as if it’s slowly dawning on them that their prize is slipping away. But none of them make any decisive move to prevent her.

Three wolves begin to follow the calf and cow. In another minute or two the mom and calf reach the herd and regain its protection.

The wolves just stand there gawking.

The herd continues to move slowly through the wide gully down towards the road. It crosses the road to the south side, and begin to graze the area between the road and the creek.

As the calf crosses the road it’s back legs are noticeably gimpy.

When the herd begins to graze, the calf sits down again. A little later, we see it stand up again and begin to nurse.


When I first saw this drama, I’d never have thought the calf would have survived this long. If it can manage to keep up with the herd, it just might survive its injuries.

I turn back to the wolves and find they have moved up into the trees. A bit later, a few come back out and bed down just beyond the tree line. In view from here, and also from Footbridge.

Around 11:45 they have a group howl, which draws the pup and several other wolves out from the trees to join in. They follow the howl with a rally, in which several grays jump on the backs of others.

As wolf packs are wont to do, they celebrate losses just as boisterously as they celebrate wins.

I doubt this drama is really over but we all need a break from the tension.

Laurie and Dan head back east, with plans to return later this afternoon.

I joining Matt at Footbridge, where he has found a great angle from which to watch the bedded pack. We share our scopes and show many people their first wolves. I count seven grays at this point, and since we had six blacks earlier, my count is now 13.

The grizzly makes another appearance in the same general area, so we show the happy visitors this healthy bruin, too.

Around 12:30 I head east for a break.

We go back out later, arriving at Footbridge around 4:45. Fay and Dale have been out the whole time. They tell us there has been howling on and off to the south, and that a few Junctions crossed that way two hours ago. The alphas group is still visible to the north.

The surprising news is about the bison calf. Fay says the bison herd is now gone, moved on to the west. As they were leaving, the mom could not convince her poor calf to get up and follow. She then abandoned her injured calf, following the herd herself.

Honestly, I am shocked. I never thought a bison mom would do that. Fay says that after about 10 minutes, the calf finally got up and tried to follow. It managed to crossed the road to the north but stopped, She says it’s still visible up there.

I see it through my scope. The poor thing is in a patch of tall sage about 100 yards from the road.

The calf is now on the same side of the road that the wolves are.

Around 6:30 the alpha group howls. Afterwards they start off to the east, moving slightly downslope. Instead of going towards the calf, however, they move further east towards 480’s crossing. It looks like they want to cross to the south.

I move back to Eastern Curve, in order to see better without blocking them.

The wolves spread out across the slope, taking various routes through the sage towards the road. I try to follow the alphas and the pup.

They get closer and closer and the crowd of people grows. It’s too much for the alphas. They turn back up the hill. Two blacks are a bit more determined.

They sneak through the sage and suddenly they are crossing the road.

Laurie and I think we are watching 1385F and the wolf I call the “delicate” black (she is small with a dark face mask). Initially we thought she was the pup but the pup followed the alphas back up the hill.

1385 and “black mask” continue south, taking their time to find the right spot to cross the creek. After they cross, black mask finds a piece of an old bison hide. She carries it a while then sits down to chew on it.

1385, however, is on a mission. She sets off southwest as if she knows where she’s going. We hear a lone voice howling from Dead Puppy Hill. Aha! She is aiming for that spot.

Now black mask follows her.

1385 reaches the rolling hills east of DHP, crosses the drainage and starts to climb up the slope. I ask Laurie if she thinks maybe the howler is 1437M?

She agrees, but says it could also be another Junction, since we know some crossed south earlier.

I look but never find the howler. But we do see 1385 again after she has crossed to the western slope of DPH.

Laurie and Dan and Rick and I move to Hitching Post and walk out to the first knob. We find 1385 crossing the middle flats heading west and north. We continue to hear a lone howler still on DPH.

Michael radios us from Confluence, saying the alpha group of 7 wolves just crossed the road at 21’s crossing and are heading south.

We pick them up right where we lost 1385. Boy, does this bring back memories!

Several wolves in the alpha group begin to romp and play as they approach the new growth on the shoulder of Norris. The alpha male beds for a rest and a gray comes up to greet him.

The light is starting to fade so I go back to Footbridge to check on the calf. I see people at the eastern end of the lot with scopes pointed where I saw it before.

I hear mooing and other distressing sounds. Fay sees a black wolf next to the calf in the sage. I see movement there but can’t tell what’s happening.

Suddenly the calf emerges from the sage, moving quickly away from the wolf. The calf is very close to the road so the wolf hangs back.

The calf wobbles down the steep hill to the road, aiming for 10 cars and 25 people. When the calf reaches the road it turns and trots pathetically to the west towards Hitching Post and the Confluence.

I find it too hard to watch anymore.

South of this pullout, just beyond the railing is a coyote trotting west. I am certain the coyote heard the sounds we did, and is likely aware of the calf’s situation.

I pack up and drive east, hoping the calf will soon be out of pain.

Today I saw: a grizzly bear, bison, 2 coyotes, elk, 13 Junction wolves (including the alphas, the pup, 1385, black mask, brown-gray and 7 others) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter

Back to Main Page

Printer Friendly Index