My bucket list had only one item in June 2016. I wanted to hunt the Canadian grey wolf. I started my wolf hunting journey many years before I ever stepped off the plane in Alberta, Canada. I studied the wolf species, locations to hunt, bullets to use, people that might have helpful knowledge about wolf hunting. I asked questions and was constantly reading about the wolf populations in the States or Canadian Province’s. Where was hunting wolves legal? When was the best time of year to hunt wolves and how would weather affect their pelts? Should I go to Idaho, Montana, Alaska, or Canada? It did matter, I wanted success and I wasn’t getting any younger. It was time to go.
After several minor-to-major issues with the guide service, I was in Manning, Alberta, and meeting my guide, Byron Wolf. Yes — “Wolf.” This part of Canada is fairly flat and wide open. It is hundreds of square miles of haying country, divided by large poplar groves, pines, and aspens. I would be hunting in clear cuts over bait in the middle of nowhere. There was 1 to 2 feet of snow everywhere. It was dark, snowing and 14 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived at the ranch.
It got colder before we left headed out for our first hunt. Byron transported me further into the wilderness toward a baited blind. The further north we traveled the less civilization existed. New snow had fallen overnight. We traveled 30 miles by truck then an additional 15 minutes via snowmobile. When we broke in an area where loggers had cleared full sections of poplar and pines, Byron’s blind was the only noticeable structure above 4 feet for 600 acres. A pile was bait was set up 400 yards away.
Remember, I was a newbie. So my initial thought as Byron drove away is what I was going to do for 8 hours. I had experience calling coyotes, but this was different. This was even my first time in a blind. I planned on following my guide’s lead, but it turns out it was time to put on my big boy pants and take the lead.
A crosswind howled and whistled through small cracks in the blind. It was so cold that any thermostat would be beating on the door wanting in. My flooring was thick with new sawdust shavings — a great insulator for the bitter cold and wind.
As I sat, my mind began to wander. Hey, look in the distance! The ravens had all gotten up at the same time. What made them fly like that? Were they spooked by something? Wolf? Nope, just a dominant raven that seems to cause all the trouble. The snow and the wind were building up and Byron’s snowmobile tracks had disappeared. What if I have to spend the night here, I thought. Let’s see, hand warmers, food, gun, water, toilet paper, phone, knife — yeah, I’m good. Flashlight? Oh crap, no flashlight. God, that was a miserable thought. It’s not going to happen. Byron would come and retrieve me for sure. I might be solid as a rock, but I was already in a coffin, all they had to do was tip me over and bury me.
My thoughts continued. Where in the hell is the sun? Canadians didn’t pay their electric bill this month? At least I’m hunting and that is better than perfect weather. Wow, almost lunch time. I needed carbs to repel the freezing temperature.
It’s 12:10 p.m. Nothing was moving except the blind in the buffeting winds. I wondered what they’re doing in New York with a smile. I’m warming the inside of the blind so much the windows are icing over in places and I can’t see clearly. I used my knife blade to clear the ice — nope, that didn’t do it. The back of my glove, nope, makes too much noise. I grab a handful of wood chips from the floor and bingo, the ice breaks up on the windows. I’m so smart.
It’s 12:20 — I wonder what they are doing in Florida as I hallucinate. Only 6 hours and 30 minutes to go. Do NOT nod off. My head falls slightly and I can feel and see my eyelids close. Really? You came all this way to hunt wolves and now you want to sleep? It’s cold outside and inside you are sleeeeeppping. No, I am not … I fall forward and startle myself into the combat mode — what did I miss? Where are the animals? The darn birds are eating my bait. I am wide-eyed and alert once again. Whew, I could have been sleeping with the fishes.
As time continues to pass, it dawns on me to practice getting my rifle on target. It’s really as easy as opening window, pushing rifle through the portal, taking aim on distant crow and bang. It took 15 seconds perform this operation. I gotta do better than that. So I repeat the drill — one thousand one, one thousand two. Ah, 12 seconds, then 10 seconds. I’m feeling rather dangerous for a geriatric. At 67, I can hold my own when it comes to speed and shooting. It’s 1:05.
My mind begins to again wander. I think about this cold country and I wonder where I am on the map. I pull out my phone and whisper to it, “OK, Google, where am I?” There is a long wait and suddenly the answer: “We cannot determine your location.” Great, I am in a space-time, continuum, in the middle of nowhere and my guide could get in a car accident and no one will know where I am. Poor planning, Trent, I tell myself, you’re going to have to walk out of this place 3 miles to the nearest road. Hopefully, you’ll be able to stop a trucker in the darkness and make your way back into the real world. My imagination is having fun with me. I’m nuts. It’s also so cold now the Polar Bears are wearing earmuffs. I’ll wait till morning to walk out if I have to.
Two things that keep me sane is knowing I’m a trained doctor and experienced hunter of 55 years. What could go wrong? The first signs of hypothermia are shivering, although as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops and clumsiness or lack of coordination develops. Any slurred speech or mumbling? Nope, I am not there yet. I passed shivering a long time ago and my wife says I mumble all the time. I can’t determine if I am clumsy because I am enclosed in a wooden box and I can barely void myself standing up. It’s 5:00 p.m. — only 90 minutes until extraction.
The elements haven’t stopped the entire day. My senses are ramping up because I know this is the time when wolves like to feed and they are on the move. I practiced my “general quarters” drill again.
All day, I was anticipating a 240-yard shot on target. I place my 22X VX Leupold, varmint reticle on a raven and imagine the smooth action of the 1½-pound pull, Jewel trigger. I’m shooting my Remington .243, VTR. My Hornady 87-grain V-Max handloads have already killed several Montana mule deer. It’s all about bullet placement. I have reminisced all day the lessons my dad taught me on hunting trips. I’m realizing what I’m doing right now was his hunt, too. “Stay with me, Dad, sit right next to me,” I whispered under my breath.
It’s 5:40. I am anxious. Perhaps today is not the day. I have an hour to finish this dream hunt for the day. My eyes strain as I look out to the tree line more than 400 yards away. I avoid my 12 o’clock view where the bait is at 240 yards. Instead, I move to my eyes slowly to the 3 o’clock position, nothing. The wind is still from third base to right center field at a steady 7 mph. I shift my eyes to 9 o’clock and 800 yards out to the tree line. Oh crap, there is some movement! Right in front of me at my 9 o’clock, or darn near, perhaps 50 yards away. I’m startled, amazed and off guard. A female wolf appears, basically in my lap. She shouldn’t be this close, I thought.
My heart rate increases as my earlier practice immediately starts my countdown procedures. I am so pleased I practiced those drills. One thousand one, one thousand two, by the time I reached 10 I was following this beautiful animal with my crosshairs on her right shoulder. Safety off, stay on target, pull at the end of your exhale. I never hear the shot. All I can honestly witness is the dog disappeared. I sit and stare through my scope, motionless. I am stunned and a bit in shock. I was so close to that wolf. I never practiced dialing down my scope to 6X. I couldn’t see anything but fur at 60 yards. No one ever said I would be that close. I immediately question myself. Was it a wolf or coyote? I don’t know whether to stay with the blind or go retrieve the animal. Suddenly there was more movement where I downed the wolf. It was up on its front legs, the first shot not fully completing the job. My second round, however, does.
I can’t believe my fortune. I walk to where the animal crossed the road to see its track. “Wow,” I said, “that’s not coyote track.” I pull out my rangefinder and sight it on the blind. Only a 60-yard shot, so the wind and snow would have no effect at that distance. I was still dumbfounded by the experience and I will always remember how I felt. I moved toward the wolf, but my head was on a swivel — were there more? I am alone, never having experienced this kind of loneliness or exhilaration after shooting anything.
I remember Byron telling me to perhaps “howl” after shooting to see if any other wolves might howl or come back. I shoulder my rifle, cup my hands to my face and wolf howl three times. The wind and the snow dampened the howling imitation. Then I realized, I’m howling … to bring in more wolves? Am I nuts? I stop and do a quick 360 in the “on-guard” stance with my rifle in hand. I don’t know what in hell I expected.
I am emotionally and physically exhausted. That much sitting in harsh temperatures would be hard for anyone. There was no way to prepare for this kind of hunting. Overthinking the whole event was my biggest pitfall. Not wishing to foul up was another self-imposed pressure.
The remaining light is fading fast as I quickly pull the wolf to the road 40 feet away. I walk back to the blind and fumbled in the cold as I dial my phone. I had enough battery for one very short call. Byron answered and said, “You better be calling me about shooting a wolf.” I shouted, “Wolf down,” … and my phone went dead. At 6:50 p.m., the distant light of a snowmobile appeared on the horizon. I wasn’t going to spend the night here after all.
My experience had me like a kid that had caught his first fish. The excitement boiled over to Byron and we both stood there in the semi-darkness admiring the wolf. I spent three more days hunting over that bait and in that blind. It was a total of hunting 36 hours of nothing but ghosts. I thank God I had my shot on the first day and made it count. I had a great time getting to know who I was, what I could endure and creating unfounded fears.
People often don’t chase their dreams, but I’m glad I did. After this hunt, my senior status (chronologically) brought me to my senses — from now on there would be no more lost opportunities. Honestly, if it weren’t for my father’s dream (that he never achieved) of bagging a big elk on a guided hunt, I may never have followed through on my dream hunt. His death was a constant reminder that pushed and prodded me to seek my own unmet dreams. As I look back, I can repeat the words of Byron Wolf: “No wolf is ever an easy wolf.” If Canis Lupus, is in your bucket, remember Byron’s words.