Elk Hunter Has Run-in With Northeast Washington Wolves

WDFW investigated a hunter’s run-in with a pack of wolves in Northeast Washington last week, determining he’d been within his rights to shoot at and possibly graze one of the animals as it approached him at close range.

“It appears he was acting lawfully,” said Steve Crown, chief of law enforcement for the state agency this morning.

The incident occurred around 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, during the Eastside rifle elk hunt on the Colville National Forest somewhere near the junction of Aladdin Road and Smackout Creek Road, which puts it in the range of the Smackout Pack.

According to Crown, the hunter, who was out with family members, spotted a wolf skirting the brush and traveling in the same direction as he was going. He yelled at the animal a couple times, but it wouldn’t leave the area.

“He then shot a round in the air,” says Crown, after which the wolf moved off.

It also revealed that there were three more wolves an estimated 25 yards away from him, says Crown.

Those headed off in the same direction as the first wolf, but as the hunter took 10 to 15 steps backwards he “heard a noise in the brush,” according to a report filed by a field officer.

He “yelled to see if it was his hunting partner and got no response.”

Instead it was yet another wolf, 15 to 20 yards away, and it then “approached him,” according to the online report.

“He fired a shot towards the wolf,” Crown says.

The black-coated wolf ran off, but the hunter thought he’d hit it, according to the report.

Just as with the hunter who shot and killed a wolf in the Pasayten Wilderness in September 2012, the man did the right thing and self-reported the incident to WDFW.

Crown says that the next day, Oct. 31, officers and biologists went to the scene to investigate.

“They did a very thorough search of the area and found a patch of fur, possibly with flesh attached. If the animal was hit, it was a grazing wound only,” Crown says. “There was no indication the animal was mortally wounded.”

It’s one of three investigations into the death of wolf or wolf-like animal in Washington this fall. The carcass of a collared female wolf recovered in the Teanaway last week has been sent to a federal lab for a necropsy while WDFW is still awaiting DNA results from an animal shot on the Palouse in mid-October before taking a potential case to the county prosecutor.

Like that latter incident, the latest occurred in the federally delisted part of Washington. A rule passed in 2013 allows ranchers, farmers and pet owners to shoot a gray wolf attacking their cattle, sheep, dogs, etc. State law also allows individuals to protect themselves from threatening or attacking wildlife.

“We look at the facts very carefully before making a judgement or taking a direction with a case,” says Crown.

He says that each is different; in this latest one, “no details refute what the hunter’s claims were.”

This corner of the state isn’t as popular amongst elk hunters as elsewhere in Eastern Washignton, but it does hold a widely scattered herd of 1,000 to 2,000 members, including some whopper bulls. The game management unit to the south produces more, but the Aladdin GMU yielded 10 bulls last season for rifle hunters, slightly above average over the past decade.

The Smackout Pack has been the subject of intensive range-riding efforts to keep it out of a local cattle herd over the past few years. It’s believed to consist of a breeding female and six young wolves. The breeding male was eaten by a cougar earlier this year.

BLACK WOLF OF THE SMACKOUT PACK, PROBABLY ONE OF THE TWO CAPTURED AND COLLARED WITH GPS DEVICES IN MAY. (JEFF FLOOD)
THE SMACKOUT PACK HAS PRODUCED A NUMBER OF BLACK-COATED WOLVES LIKE THIS ONE CAPTURED A FEW YEARS AGO BY A TRAIL CAM PUT UP BY A LOCAL RESIDENT.

As Washington’s population of Canis lupus has grown, wolf-hunter encounters have also increased.

One occurred right before 2011’s High Buck Hunt on Sawtooth Ridge between the Twisp River and Lake Chelan, another happened later that year in the Teanaway between elk hunters and members of the local pack, and in September 2013, three moose hunters met up with a till-then unknown, and rather large pack at Bunchgrass Meadows in northern Pend Oreille County.

WDFW records other wolf incidents on its Dangerous Wildlife Complaints page and on its wolf observation map.

The agency’s FAQs for wolves notes: “Wild wolves generally fear and avoid people, and rarely pose a threat to human safety. In the past 60 years, there have been two wolf-caused human fatalities in North America (Canada and Alaska). Two broad summaries published in 2002 documented 28 reports of wolf aggression towards humans in North America from 1969 to 2001. Nineteen of these involved wolves habituated to people and five involved people accompanied by domestic dogs. There have been no physical attacks on people by wolves in Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming from the time wolf recovery began in the 1980s.”

Concerned about the habituation displayed by a female wolf in the Pend Oreille Valley, WDFW has been trying unsuccessfully to capture and transfer it to Wolf Haven.

One wolf behavior that freaks people out is the stop-and-stare-at-you, a fault of the animals’ curious nature, and WDFW’s FAQs gives some advice should things take a turn for the worse:

“In the extremely rare event of an encounter with an aggressive wolf, don’t run or turn your back. Stand your ground, act aggressively by stepping toward the wolf and yelling or clapping your hands if it tries to approach.  Use air horns or other loud noise-makers.  Stare directly at the wolf and  retreat slowly while facing the wolf.  Climb a tree if necessary. If a wolf attacks, fight back with any means possible, including bear spray or firearms if necessary.  Wolf-dog hybrids, which cannot necessarily be distinguished from wild wolves, can be more dangerous to humans than wild wolves because they have lost their natural fear of humans. While they are bred from domestic dogs, they still retain the predatory instinct from their wolf ancestry,” WDFW advises.

If there’s a positive about last week’s encounter, perhaps it’s that the pack will stay the hell away from people in the future.After 2011’s incident above Lake Chelan, which involved a female huntress who backed out of a basin while being followed by two wolves, I spoke to a retired federal wolf expert.

“The only decision I wish she would have made would be to discharge her rifle in their direction. I predict the wolves would have fled and the woman could have relaxed. No harm in teaching wolves to be wild and preventing any possible habituation behavior from developing,” said Carter Niemeyer.

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