I was recently looking at some of the pictures that I took this summer and I came across some that I had forgotten about. In June I was in McCall, Idaho and one evening I decided I wanted to go up onto a mountain around sunset to get some pictures of the surrounding country in the changing light of the evening. There is a peak with good views in all directions not far (as the crow flies) from our place so I set out with what I thought was plenty of time to get up on the mountain before sunset.
The peak, which is maybe five or six miles by line of sight, turned out to be a forty or fifty mile drive, mostly on dirt forest roads. When I finally got to the top the sun had already set, but there was still plenty of light since the midsummer twilight in Idaho lasts for an hour or so. I got out of the car in a hurry to get some pictures and as I walked the last few hundred yards to the top I saw the creature pictured above. He apparently came out of his den to see what was going on and I got three quick pictures before he turned and ran back into his den. I remember thinking that I didn’t recognize the creature, which was about the size of a small to medium sized dog, but kind of stocky. It was too dark for a red fox or a coyote, but I guessed it was some sort of fox that I wasn’t familiar with.
Cub, Valley County Idaho.
After that I spent about an hour taking pictures of the panoramas around me and forgot all about the animal until I looked at the pictures again recently. I asked Ellen what she thought it was and she said she didn’t recognize it, but could it be a wolf. So I went on line and looked at pictures of wolf cubs and there it was.
So without realizing it until much later I’m finally sure I’ve seen a wolf in the wild. There have been a couple of other times when I’ve been out and about when I thought I may have come across a wolf or wolves, but nothing definite.
Since the late 1990’s wolves have been moving back down into Idaho. At first there were just a few sightings, but in the last few years the population seems to have gotten back into the thousands and there are now occasional reports of them as far south as Utah.
In late October in 2004 I was hiking in the Wasatch Mountains outside of Salt Lake when I heard this very loud howling a few hundred yards off the trail I was on. I immediately thought it might be a wolf because the sound was much louder and deeper than the coyotes I’ve heard. I wanted to run off the trail and see if I could find it, but I had three unleashed dogs with me. (No, when the dogs I know hear a howl like that they do not go running in the direction of the sound, but instead look at me as if to say “are we safe?”.) I put all the dogs on ropes so that they wouldn’t get any crazy ideas and we went running off into the bushes.
As we got closer I could hear lots of ravens squawking and making a commotion and when we finally got to the spot there was a dead elk, a bunch of birds, but no coyote or wolf. Don’t go hiking with dogs if you want to see wildlife. I remember reading in the book Ravens in Winter that ravens often will fly around making a lot of noise when they find a carcass if it has not been already been torn open, and that biologists think they do this in order to attract large predators that can come to the carcass and break it open so that the ravens can (eventually) eat. And so I think that was what had happened and that the howling was probably the wolf or coyote calling its friends to let them know about the find.
In 2001 I was hiking along the ridge between Salt Lake and City Creek around sunset one evening when I saw the coyotes below. Much smaller animals than the one’s pictured at the end of this post. Again I had dogs with me and again I was concerned that they might go chasing after them and get into trouble. But again the dogs seemed to recognize that the dog-like creatures were not really dogs and that worried them. At the time I had only a very primitive digital camera, which could take maybe six pictures of a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels so the pictures were not great, but still better than nothing.
They were pretty far off, but if you look along the ridge line in the foreground you will see the two coyotes slinking along.
In December 2003 I was driving back to Salt Lake from McCall one snowy morning when off to the side of the highway I saw a couple of canids running around in a field. They were several hundred yards off and I stayed in the car to take the pictures so they didn’t seem to notice me. I got several dozen pictures with a 300 millimeter lens on my Canon DSLR. My now departed Australian Shepherd Laika was just sleepily riding shotgun and didn’t notice a thing. I’m not sure if the canids were wolves or coyotes. They were bigger than average coyotes (or maybe just fluffy with winter coats) and they were hunting rodents, flipping them in the air and catching them in their mouths, just as Farley Mowat described in Never Cry Wolf. I didn’t try to get any closer, figuring if I got out of the car and started walking they’d notice me and run off, but in hindsight I regret not having tried to get closer to get better pictures.
They see me.
They are more concerned about eating.
Making the pasture safe for cow and horse legs.
I read later that year or the following spring that a wolf was shot for molesting livestock in close vicinity to where I took the pictures and that fact, along with their large size inclines me to think they were wolves and not coyotes. But anyhow I definitely can say I’ve seen at least one wolf in the wild, even if was just a pup.