Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Golden Wolf

Sometimes in the outdoors there are extraordinary experiences that stand out, and even when they are happening you realize it's something never to be forgotten.

Recently on my trip to the North Slope, I was driving down the Haul Road and saw a wolf in the distance, trotting across the tundra and angling towards the road. I grabbed my camera, rolled down the window, and tried to time our convergence for a good photo. As he drew nearer I was surprised to see his color, a beautiful shade of gold that I'd never seen before in a wolf. He trotted along confidently as I took a few photos. When I stopped he became suspicious and quickly loped across the deserted gravel road and trotted across the tundra on the other side, stopping to pounce upon a mouse. He scanned the countryside as he slowly disappeared in the distance.

The next day I was far off the road, glassing the open hills and creek bottoms for caribou. When I lowered my binoculars, a white dot moved across a hillside well over a mile away: a wolf. Through my binoculars I watched as he angled my way. Leaving my hilltop I kept an eye on him as I moved to intercept his route. When he got to the creek he jumped on something, rolling around in the high grass, appearing and disappearing, his bushy tail flipping in the air from time to time. He'd be gone for a bit, then his head would pop up again. When he headed upstream and disappeared into the willows he was still a mile away. As I hurried along for another look I continued to look around, and was startled to see him suddenly trotting behind me, through the knee-high willows only a hundred yards or so away.

It took a moment to realize what I was seeing. The light was different, but I realized he wasn't white at all, but a pale yellow. It HAD to be the same wolf. When we made eye contact he paused for moment, then turned to run. The distinctive black spot on his tail confirmed his identity. When he stopped again to gauge my reaction it's as if he recognized me, too. Then he loped away over the hilltop and was gone.

Our last encounter had been about fifteen miles away as the crow flies. What were the odds that he would have changed direction after that first meeting, and come directly to me for another rendezvous the very next day? I suppose there was no reason or explanation, it just was.


  1. Thanks for the great story! I'm all for responsible hunting, but I don't understand why some want to kill these beautiful animals. They play such an essential role in the balance of nature. What is the reasoning behind the wolf killing issue there, and aerial shooting? Is it as bad as the media makes it out to be? -Carl

  2. Thanks Carl!

    There is a lot of hyperbole and emotion surrounding wolves in Alaska, or almost anywhere else for that matter. And of course it comes from both sides.

    Wolves are doing well in Alaska. They occur in nearly all their historical range, and likely in greater abundance than 100 years ago.

    The state does some aerial wolf hunting when they determine that wolves are keeping caribou or moose numbers too low. And yes, it it is mostly because human hunters want to fill their freezers, but also to keep stability in the herds, avoiding the boom and bust cycles. They are trying to achieve this by controlling predator numbers in some places, and by carefully controlling hunting in all places.

    Of course, many people don't want to see any wolves killed for any reason.

    Take away the emotion and these are still truly the good old days in Alaska when it comes to wildlife.

  3. Good perspective, sounds reasonable.

  4. shaun k1:47 PM

    great photo of that wolf.. what kind of camera did you use to get the photo? take care shaun

  5. Thanks Sean. That shot is actually a screen capture from my video camera, which is an older Optura 600. I was within a few moments of getting some good stills, too.

  6. Anonymous7:38 AM

    HeyBuck..a little off subject but regarding your canoe trip down the Mississippi can you point me toward or share the information regarding getting started? Where did you get the canoe, supplies, etc at Lake Itasca? It seems for me right now that is the biggest hurdle. Thanks!

    ~W. Hall

  7. Hi W.Hall,

    Check out these comments and answers on my Mississippi blog post.

    And the numerous pages of information about my Mississippi adventure Here.

    Good luck!