From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 19 - August 7, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Today I watched a wolf as it watched my son herding sheep

by Cat Urbigkit

In hot, dry weather, our sheep herd leaves its bedground at a run by about 6:30 most mornings. They graze for a few hours on the dew-covered vegetation, then bed down again to get through the heat of the day, before leisurely grazing away the evening.

Monday morning was that way as well, and I sent my 12-year-old son, Cass, out to push the sheep away from the Mesa fence and down toward the draw. A few minutes later I looked out the back window and saw an animal watch Cass and the sheep, which were just out of my sight. I looked through the binoculars at the light-colored canid, trying to figure out of it was one of our three young guard dogs or a coyote. I only briefly considered it being something else.

The animal was sneaky and I couldn't get a clear view of its silhouette, although I looked at it off and on for the next 45 minutes. It retreated into the shadows as the sheep and dogs passed below it.

Cass got back to the house, so it was my turn to push the sheep, this time away from the industrial traffic on Paradise Road. I spent about half an hour out with the herd, played with the guard dogs near the eastern property boundary, and then headed back to the house.

Doing my morning chores drew me to look out the back window again, and I nearly fainted when I saw two extremely large canids walking where their lighter-colored counterpart had been earlier. These two dark wolves had their heads down when they moved and their shoulders were massive.

It was that instant that I realized the animal that had laid on the hillside watching my son herding sheep had been one member of a pack of three wolves. I was enraged. I ran for the gun case, but in my panic, couldn't find the right shells to go with the guns I was grabbing. Cass, who was outside, heard my screeches for help and came at a run. Being a mannerly young man, he ran through the front door, stopping on a dime to begin taking off his shoes so he wouldn't get the floors dirty. He quickly abandoned that idea and continued to the gun cabinet.

By that time, I had guns and shells scattered all over the room, but Cass shoved the 20-gauge shells into my hand and I was out the door. By some miracle (and the help of that 12-year-old) I made it to the car with a 20-gauge shotgun, matching shells, a cell phone and a set of binoculars.

I began shooting when I reached the top of the hill overlooking the draw, and could hear the echoes of Cass' 243 as well. Not familiar with the break-open shotgun I was firing, I would pull back to cock the gun when I had meant to push the break-open lever. My hands were shaking and my brain had definitely kicked out.

The wolves were gone, slipping away into the folds and dips of the Mesa. We made a lot of noise in their wake anyway.

While I walked the draws, hillsides and fencelines looking for tracks, I called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Lander on my cell phone and left a message about the wolves, requesting a return call. That call came a few hours later.

Cass pushed the sheep toward their mid-morning bedground near the corrals, and they settled in. I left Cass, a 12-year-old man with a rifle, to guard the herd while I headed to town for more shells and other supplies in case we needed to pen the sheep and feed them for a few days while the wolf situation got sorted out.

FWS returned my call, sounding sympathetic, but noting that no action would be taken because the wolves hadn't really done anything like actually attacking my sheep. No blood had been shed. Our action to scare the wolves away was the appropriate response, I was told, but if problems did occur, please call again.

It was later that evening that I learned from a friend that wolves had killed a calf near Cora sometime during the night. I'll bet I know where the cattle killers were just a few hours later.

On a hill, watching my son herd sheep.

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