WILD HARVEST: The Big Bad Wolf

Wolves are sneaky, elusive, powerful and intelligent animals. For these reasons, they often have a bad reputation, but rarely is it truly justified. One such instance involved an old nuisance wolf that had begun encroaching on a small, remote community in northern Manitoba.

Robert, a friend of mine who is seasonally both a trapper and commercial fisherman, invited me to join him one cold mid-winter day to check his trap line by traditional dog team. A wolf appearing in and around town, or harassing and even killing some of his dogs, was nothing new in this part of the world. It was a bad wolf year, however, with encounters growing bolder and more frequent than normal. As a result, more effort had been placed on trapping them, which found us on the trap line that day. The wolves’ true cunning was displayed clearly for us to see. A series of robbed or dodged traps occurred more often than I expected, despite the expertise on the trapper’s part.

Less than a mile from his house, along a lakeshore, are the dogs, each chained to an individual tree where they make easy targets. Earlier that winter, Robert had lost a nursing mother to a pair of wolves, orphaning a litter of four-week-old, unweaned pups, which unfortunately did not survive. The wolves began to focus more on the dogs, and so we shifted our trapping efforts there. There was one set of lone wolf tracks that had begun to appear with frequency – particularly large and particularly bold.

 

In this part of Manitoba, two separate populations of grey wolves seem to co-mingle during the winter months. Packs of transient tundra wolves move in from the north, pursuing the migrating caribou herds into the traditional range of the resident timber wolves. The way it works is the established resident packs all have their own separate territories, whose boundaries were mapped from recent biologic studies in the area. Nearly half a million barren ground caribou migrate and over-winter in the northern third of Manitoba, effectively draining the entire sub-arctic of wolves, creating a seasonal surplus in the area. Resident wolves focus on moose, while the transient wolves specialize in caribou.

While not generally in direct competition over the same resources, food shortages can occur at times, at least locally. We figured the big, lone wolf hanging around the dogs was a transient wolf, injured or out of steam. Encroaching on inhabited areas and not necessarily afraid of humans while in search of an easy meal were all ingredients for a potentially desperate, dangerous animal.

After re-locating some traps in the vicinity of where the dogs are kept, we removed them from their harnesses and began feeding the hungry teamsters. Relaxing quietly for a few minutes while the dogs ate, a flicker of silvery movement caught our eye. We dared not move, simultaneously identifying the tall, ghost-like figure as a lone, marauding wolf. We watched him slink closer, stalking the dogs while they were distracted with food. Leaning against the sled, Robert steadied his rifle as the wolf snuck a mere 30 yards behind a hungry, unsuspecting husky – and fired. The bullet struck the wolf in the throat, and upon examining the big paws and prints, we confirmed it was the same problem wolf.

The wolf was a big, silvery male, estimated at around 150 to 160 pounds, despite being somewhat emaciated. Upon inspecting his teeth to determine age, it was clear he was very old. His teeth looked like a pearl necklace in a dog’s mouth, worn down after many years of hunting and pulling down moose and caribou. We suspected his age and worn teeth lost him any position he may have held in a pack, no longer able to bring down or capture prey with dull, rounded k-9s. Ostracized and left to fend for himself, extreme hunger and desperation caused him to act out of character. Learning about this individual wolf provided us with new insight and appreciation. The wolf was treated with respect, and Robert, being a trapper, prepared the hide for sale at the annual fur auction.

Pictured at the top: The large wolf Adrian and Robert were able to take.
Pictured in the middle: The size of the wolf’s paws were a good indication of an older male.
Pictured at the bottom: Ostracized from his pack and left to fend for himself in the harsh winter caused this hungry wolf to act out of character.

This entry was posted in Wild Harvest and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.