Hunting Alberta’s Grey Wolf

Here he/she is Canis Lupus 

In the fall of 2018, I had the good luck to score a moose north of Spirit River, Alberta.  The Outfitter was going to start offering wolf hunts as the beast is so plentiful and I was told they kill about 80% of the new born moose calves.  The beast immediately went on my list of hunting trips that I had to make. First, a little research needed to be done.  I was reminded that this animal is not your ordinary house dog, but a fierce animal that kills for sport.  

Here’s looking at you kid

Hunting elk in north central Idaho and in Wyoming south of Yellowstone, some time ago, I had experienced what happens when wolves are turned loose in areas rich in elk.  The elk disappear. If I was going to head north to hunt these animals, a little research needed to be done.

Literature is readily available on line from Canada about this animal, and here is what I learned. They are  common in lightly settled portions of Canada from Labrador to British Columbia and in the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories. Wolves are territorial. Each pack occupies an area that it will defend against intruders. Sizes of territories vary greatly and are dependent on the kind and abundance of prey available. Wolves’ chief prey are large mammals such as deer, moose, caribou, elk, bison, and muskox. Wolves also eat a variety of smaller mammals and birds, but these rarely make up more than a small part of their diet.

In the wild, male and female wolves can breed only once a year. Breeding time varies with the latitude but most commonly occurs in March and April. After a nine-week gestation or pregnancy period, litters of five or six pups (sometimes eight or more) are born.

Wolf pups are usually born in a den. In coniferous forests and on tundra this den is commonly dug in a type of soil that lends itself to digging, such as in a gravel ridge caused by glacial melt water, or similar area. The pups remain inside whelping dens for approximately two weeks. By mid-autumn they are traveling with the pack and participating in hunting and other pack activities.

Frequent play helps young wolves develop hunting skills. Mature wolves can set up ambushes or drive prey toward other wolves. These learned or non-instinctive skills originated as pups.

After visiting with the outfitter, we selected a date on December 9th to fly to Grande Prairie Alberta, Canada where I would be picked up and taken to the lodge.  Now, I have never flown with a firearm before and there are a few steps you must go through.  First, notify the airline you will be checking a firearm in at the ticket counter.  Second, purchase a stout lockable gun case to transport the piece.  I also included the ammunition in that case in its original box.  A gun store owner recommended I purchase a box by Pelican. It was a little pricey, but it was really stout and had a place for four separate padlocks.  I opened it up at the ticket counter and the agent place a document in the box. It was then sent as baggage to be placed on the airline.  The box was unlocked when it went to TSA. They checked it out in the location where they check bags and then locked it back up after placing a document in the case.  

My first port of entry was Calgary.  I retrieved the gun and my over- sized bag from the baggage area  and went to Canadian customs.  They then steered me to a separate area where my document to bring in a gun was reviewed with my passport.  I presented a folder with my passport, my contract with the outfitter, and all e-mail correspondence with the outfitter, along with a document issued by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on the firearm.  The Canadian form to bring in a firearm into the country is in triplicate and DO NOT SIGN IT.  It must be signed in front of an officer.  I paid $25.00 and then went on to the connecting flight. When hunting, you will need to carry the document signed by immigration along with your hunting license.   At the next connection counter, the case was opened and another document from the airline was added to the other documents.  The locked case was then sent on to the baggage area to be added to the flight. My bag and firearm showed up in Grande Prairie.  This was my first time flying with a firearm.  Driving is much simpler.  All in all, it is not that difficult once you have done it. 

We were off on the hunt the next day.  This would take place over bait.  Bait consisted of the ground up innards from the elk, moose, and deer shot at the lodge during the regular hunting season.  It was frozen and stored until needed, then thawed and placed on the bait sight the night before hunting the sight on the next day.  The wolves are nocturnal animals so it was expected they would feed on the sight during the night and the next day.

This is the blind I where hunted from, and the outfitter had a number of locations with blinds we would hunt from depending on the wind.  I would face the wind and in the above case, I would be looking out the front window toward the bait site 180 yards from me.  The average shot would be around 200 yards.  The blind is 45×45 inches. I could not stand up, and it is very difficult to move around.

This is looking into the backside of the blind.  The floor is five feet above the ground and I just stepped on the cross pieces and pulled myself up.  Notice the chair.  It is an office type of chair that can be raised and lowered and it is comfortable.  Notice on top of the blind there is a little black box. This is a very important item and the outfitter uses this item when bear hunting.  It is called Ozonics, and the purpose to eliminate scent.  It runs quietly and draws air up from the blind and filters it out into the air stream.

This was a mile walk from the drop off point and my guide walked me in.  It was -10 and I was dressed like Nanook of the North with multiple layers of clothing.  In addition to my gun, a small space heater was brought along, an extra propane tube, my lunch consisting of a thermos of soup, the Ozonics, extra “Hot Hands,” extra “Toasty Toes,” a small bottle of water, and extra ammo.  Fortunately for me, my guide was in his early 20’s and was a college basketball player.  He was in outstanding condition and insisted on carrying all the equipment in.  All I carried was my shooting sticks that I did not need.  This young man was built like Paul Bunyan and was in outstanding physical condition.  The snow was knee deep and we walked in on a packed down surface made by a snow machine.  My guide never got winded, and I had to stop several times to catch my breath.  Why not, I have over 50 years on him and I could have been his grandfather. 

Organization was the key element in the blind.  Second, was getting myself positioned so that when I brought the gun up, I could point it out the window, then drop it to the target and get my eye on the scope.  This was not like shooting elk, moose, or buffalo which was like shooting at a billboard. 

This is what I saw as I was looking forward out of the blind.  On each side there was a small window that  I could open.  With the space heater running, I opened up a second for safety.  I sat there for two hours with nothing happening, and then it came.  Just at the tree line edge a wolf stepped out in the open.  Did I make the shot?  The answer is not only NO, IT IS NO NO and MORE NO. I had the rifle on my left side, my extra bag on the right and the space heater behind me.  Now, I had to get the gun over to my right side, stick the barrel out the window, and try to scope the animal.  The gun is 47 inches long.  The width of the blind is 45 inches.  The chair was too low.  The critter stood for at least 15 seconds staring straight at me.  Our eyes met as I was thrashing and thrashing around.  By the time I was set to shoot, he split. I could have sworn there was a paw that went up and a middle claw sticking up in the air as he disappeared.  That night I slept like a baby, and cried all night.  

This was a very hard lesson to learn as this might be the only opportunity for the trip.  This type of hunting has a very, very low percentage of success.  I had to get organized.  First, I moved the rifle over to my right side and practiced pulling it up and positioning it to fire as quickly as possible.  Second, I moved the space heater between my legs where I could easily control the heat output. Third, I put my bag on my left side.  Fourth, I moved my shooting sticks behind me as they would be of no value.  The window ledge was where the gun was laid on top of a mitten to avoid scratching it. Fifth, I raised the chair to the maximum so that I would lean into the gun and the scope.  Sixth, I practiced this movement over and over until I got all movements just right.   

My guide would text me periodically to check on how things were going.  It was embarrassing to let him know one got away. 

This is looking off to my left.  The wind remained in a northerly direction and this location was hunted for two days.  Another lesson I learned was water intake.  First, do not drink coffee in the morning.  Second, limit your water intake to not more that a half a bottle of water during the day.  When you leave for the blind do not drink any water.  You will get thirsty, but that won’t hurt you at all and when you leave in the evening, you can have a big drink of water.  On my second day, I was not out of the blind except one time.  The first day it was several.  

The next day the temp was still below zero,  but the light breezes had switched to a more northeasterly direction.  The walk in was a lot shorter and more flat, and I had less trouble and did not tumble into the snow.  

This pic is just peering out the left side of the blind. It had a rather picturesque look and you can see the light snowfall that had taken place during the night. 

This is looking straight out of the front of the blind.  The tracks you see are from the tracked vehicle that brought in the bait during the night.  Just on the other side of the small rise is the location of the bait.  It is out about 200 yards.  Looking to the far end of the cut is 500 yards per my range finder. 

It was at the far end of the cut that two black dots appeared.  I said to myself, “Are the gods going to look favorably on me and give me another shot?”  I texted back to the guides and told them there were two out 500 yards and working their way toward me.  Immediately the response was, “If you have a comfortable shot, take it, we can always track the results.”

I patiently waited and they worked their way to the bait pile.  The ground was rolling and they would appear at the top of the roll in the earth, then disappear as they went down.  With the lesson learned from the first day, I got set up and ready to take my first wolf.  The barrel was out the window and the scope had a great view of the ridge above the bait.  I only wished at that moment that the bait was on my side of the rise rather than on the opposite side.  

It was all about waiting, waiting, and more waiting.  A blackish wolf popped up and I leaned into the firearm, had him in the scope, but as I started to apply pressure on the trigger he went back onto the bait pile.  Then I saw a head poking up and then it went back down.  I waited and waited.  In my lifetime, I have fouled up more easy shots by not being patient and being in too big of a hurry.  Finally, there seemed to be no more activity on the bait pile. As I looked down the cut, they appeared at the far end and disappeared.  

The only thing that happened then was a coyote came by and I watched him dive into snow and track rodents scurrying underneath the snow. I had a coyote license, but I did not want to ruin the spot for a coyote. 

The next two days the wind shifted to the southwest and the light snow quit.  I was taken to a blind where a trapper had seen a big pack of wolves working through the area and he believed this was their territory.  

The bait is just beyond the shadow line.  There is a cut that comes in from the right and the guide said they had seen tracks there.  

This is the cut that came in from the right side of the blind.  There were a lot of ravens on the bait sight and that was a good thing as it demonstrated security for the wolves. 

Off to my left was a small pond with wolf tracks coming across it to the cut above the blind and then to the bait.  No one came by that day. 

To the left and right inside of the box were convex mirrors that I could look behind myself and see if anything was coming.  I was told that wolves will come to bait at a good clip and then slow down the closer they get.  You can see the tracks in the snow made by the snow machines.  All the blinds had a tree at the back of them so you can see off to one side through the mirror if something is coming to call. 

Nanook of the North

This is the space heater that was used to take the chill off.  The first day, I ran it on high about every couple of hours for 15 minutes.  But my guide and the other hunter kept it on low all day long and that worked really well just to keep the chill off. 

Was this a successful hunt? Yes it was and no it was not. It was my fault that I blew the shot, but it was a great time and experience, and I will do it again next year.  Next time there will be a better knowledge level of how to do it, which will bring success. 

For a good read, buy my book.

Good hunting, good fishing, and good luck, Hank

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