DAY SIX - Monday, October 12

THE HUNTING PARTY

There is a smattering of new snow on the car this morning. But unlike yesterday, this snow is dry powder.

Today is my last full day so I hope itís a good one.

Snow is still lightly falling as I head down in the dark. It seems extra dark this morning which means itís cloudy. I love being out in the dark!

When I get to Trash Can I am shocked to find a spot in the lot itself. That proves that there are now less people. I guess the change in the weather has sent some home.

We also have a lot of wind today, including some really fierce, long-lasting gusts. I add another jacket and warmer gloves.

There are no pups on the carcass this morning and it takes me a while to find more than a few in the R-V. Then someone calls that a black adult is heading in from the west.

The pup I was watching suddenly wheels and makes a mad dash west, joining an already running group of 6 other pups. They converge out in the open on the husky yearling who lowers his head and gives up some food.

Oh! look at them mob him! You can see he is bigger than they are. Wow, are they happy to see him! Laurie of course, is right. We quickly do a count and find 11 wolves, so yes, the husky black is an addition.

Oh wait, thereís a fifth gray. So, we now have 12 wolves. Did this gray arrive with the husky yearling? I never find out but it feels like good news.

A black pup and a gray pup begin to tussle over a bite of something. After the feeding, the pups begin to settle down, so I pack up and head west, trying again to find the adult Junctions.

At Boulder I meet up with Larry & Linda. They want to find the adults, too. We donít have anything here, though, so we drive further west to Elk Creek and scope the top of Specimen.

A little while later Bill calls on the radio ďblack wolf chasing elk, north of CurveĒ.

Yay! We pack up and head there.

By the time we arrive, the lot is full, but we find parking just to the east. However, as we set up the wind becomes insane, whipping and whistling all around us. Whereas before there were periodic gusts, now the wind has become steady and constant. And so fierce! I guess another system is coming in, or going out.

It takes some doing but with help from Bill and Stacy I find a group of elk bunched on a hill to the north and help Larry & Linda find them, too. The elk are quite high on the slope but not quite at skyline.

Then I see three black wolves on the slope below the elk and to the right. I see the bunched elk looking to the left and also behind them, so I think there are likely more wolves than these three.

Itís quite a long look. And the terrain is difficult; itís hilly and rocky with scattered trees, which makes it harder. But what really makes it hard is the wind. Itís just crazy. You really have to hold on to your scope.

The three wolves disappear and I strain to find them again. For a few minutes, none of us have any wolves in sight. But itís clear that we have finally found the adult group, and they are hunting. Thanks, Bill!

Stacy calls out that a second group of elk is now running, on the next meadow to the east. I find these quickly and see the same three black wolves chasing them. The herd splits into several small groups. Itís chaotic to try to follow the tiny black shapes across this speckled terrain.

I see two elk stopped on a low hill and the three blacks below them. They approach the elk tentatively but the elk just stare at them. These elk have no protection other than themselves; no cliff, no antlered bull, no trees, but the wolves just stare, then pass them by.

When I ask Stacy about this later, he comments ďthey didnít want those elkĒ. I find it fascinating to see what wolves pursue and what they ignore.

Soon these blacks move further west and out of sight. I swing my scope to the first group of elk which are still bunched in exactly the same spot. But now they are looking to the west, not the east.

People start heading west, so I do too. Before I leave, though, I call out a hearty ďthank you BillĒ over the radio. What would we do without you, Bill?

I end up at the big ski lot with everybody else. Stacy picked them up briefly from here but they have already gone out of sight. The wind continues to blow but at least the sun is out so it feels warmer.

I spend a half hour here, diligently scoping in the crazy wind, getting to know the lay of the land. But the wolves do not re-appear. I decide to bring some luck to the group by leaving temporarily for a loo break.

And it works! When I get back, everyone is out of their cars with scopes all pointed in the same direction.

Some wolves have already gone out of sight but a few are still in view. It is a very hard spot and it takes me an unusually long time to find them. Steve and Robin and I are all having trouble.

Itís maddening to hear other people comment on this wolf or that wolf as it arrives at this rock or beside that tree when you have not found the spot yourself, but finally with patience and lots of help through the screaming wind I find them.

Specifically, I see 1047 bedded between a tree and a rock. Then I see a black bedded to his right and a gray walking up the slope.

Stacy says he counted 20 at least so I did miss a lot! But the wolves have stopped moving and are all bedded now. They will likely stay in this spot for a few hours.

I have had enough of the wind so I bid Steve and Robin adieu and head back east.

Things are not nearly so windy in Lamar so I stop again at Trash Can.

There are at least 5 pups still in the R-V. And as a bonus some people have just found a grizzly up on the right shoulder of Druid, so I see a bear, too.

Nice!

I only take a short break in Silver Gate because I want to get back to the Ski Lot to see the adults again before they move, as they surely will, since they have not yet hunted successfully.

On my way down I see a moose at Soda Butte picnic.

I can see from the crowd at Trash Can that wolves are still present but I decide not to stop.

And its lucky I didnít. By the time I get to the Ski Lot, the Junctions are already on the move. But this time I am able to find them quickly.

They have dropped down quite a bit from where they were bedded. They are traveling in two groups of roughly ten wolves each; the leader group and the follower group. The follower group is mainly pups. The leaders approach a small group of bison and test them briefly but quickly continue on their way.

They traverse hilly, rocky terrain for over a half hour. I have never seen wolves in this particular spot before so I make a mental note to add it to my ďwhere to look for wolvesĒ list.

I see 21 wolves from here; I think Stacy had 23. They are heading east on a mission and I like that, too.

When the wolves go out of sight from here, Stacy recommends we head east. He suggests Aspen.

Soon he is leading a four-car caravan. However, he stops sooner, at a spot called Bison Bobís. No sooner has he stopped than he finds the Junctions low on Momís Ridge, still going east and still coming down.

To me they look like they are aiming for Slough. I get a count of 21 again, so I probably missed a few. I note to myself that this is another spot where I have not seen wolves before. As they get lower we lose them behind the rolling hills.

We are also losing the light, maybe 15 minutes left. Stacy heads to Slough and Pat goes to Lamar Canyon west. I go to Crystal because I want them to cross the road here and go back to the pups!

Stacy gets a quick glimpse of a few of them moving into the Lamar river corridor, but then he loses them. I stay here as long as I have light to see, but I donít find them again.

Still, this turned out to be a very exciting day of wolf watching.

I head back to Silver Gate with a satisfied feeling.

Today I saw: a grizzly bear, bison, elk, a moose, 31 Junction wolves (in two groups) and the spirits of Allison and Richard.

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