Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?
This past Sunday, October 11th, our three dogs got a little tired of being cooped up in the house by three days of cold, windy weather. Getting anything done in my home-based office was out of the question. Those dogs wanted to go do something, even if it was just to take a ride along the base of the mountains and look at deer. Anyway, they just about drove me crazy, and didn't let up until I slipped on an insulated jacket, stuck on my usual camouflaged cap, and grabbed my truck keys.
It was getting toward late afternoon and early evening. The sun had finally popped through some thinning clouds, and it had "warmed up" all the way into the low 30s. I knew a spot where I could get about a hundred or so feet above the Clark Fork River, and take a nice photo back to the southeast. The softwoods along the river still had not turned yellow, something I had been waiting for, but with some fresh snow down to the base of the mountains in the background, I still thought it would make for a nice shot or two. So, I grabbed my camera - and Copa, Bob and Tully were soon watching deer out the truck windows as I drove through the river-bottom farm lands, crossed over to the west side and headed north along the river - slowly climbing until I was at the point where the river headed back toward the east side of the wide valley. It was a great advantage point, and after a few minutes, I had taken a half-dozen photos with my old Canon 35mm AE-1.
The winds had died, and to be quite honest, I was glad the dogs made me do this. I was enjoying being out as well. So, the four of us hopped back into the truck, and I drove another 5 or 6 miles on down the often rough gravel road that skirted the west bank of the river. After pulling into where a Forest Service road was blocked by a locked steel gate, the dogs and I got out for a little walk. The dirt roadway meandered up a fairly long, flat valley. The area was as much covered by grass as trees, and was a nice place to go for a several mile walk.
Copa, an Aussie-Shelty mix, is our "old girl", at 11 years old. She stuck with me, while the two boys, our lab Bob and lab-chow-pit bull mix Tully, raced ahead. Those two 3 year olds have a lot of energy, and love the adventure of running in a new area. They checked out everything for a quarter-mile ahead, coming back regularly to check on Copa and I.
We were about a mile into the walk, when I looked up to see Bob and Tully bearing down on us with all the speed they could muster, and when they shot right by and kept on running toward the truck, I sensed something was not right. Like an idiot, I had not thrown my old Ruger .44 Magnum in the truck for this short afternoon-evening excursion. When walking trails well off the beaten path, that ol' hogleg, carried in a shoulder holster, is a constant companion. Why? Wolves mostly. It has gotten that I can hardly take a walk in the mountains or in the foothills without seeing wolf sign - mostly scat filled with bone shards and elk hair. These aggressive predators are everywhere you go in western Montana these days. And they are a true threat to almost every other living thing. Dogs rank right up there among their favorite prey.
Now, Bob and Tully don't run from much. At least five times during the past two summers, those dogs have chased black bears away from camp - without reservation. And a few times they have sent bears running off the trails we've hiked. But on several occasions, when I knew wolves were in the near vicinity, the two would get very nervous.
Realizing that wolves or perhaps a mountain lion were likely the only things that would put such fear into them, I turned and watched for movement down the Forest Service road. Then I called Copa close, and made my way back to the truck - stopping now and then to watch my back trail. Nothing. When I reached the truck, there sat Bob and Tully, very ready to load up and get the heck out of there. And once in the truck, the two kept looking back up the roadway. We sat and watched for about 15 minutes. Still nothing. But the two dogs never calmed down, until I started the truck, backed out and headed for home.
I would give almost anything to know what they had seen...what had sent them packing down the road and back to the truck. My feelings are that we had gotten closer to things going bad for the dogs than I care to truly realize. I also know that I'll never leave that truck again without having the big .44 strapped on.
When hiking, do you take your dogs with you...and do you carry a firearm?
About the photo: Bob (in the rear) and Tully enjoy a morning hike up into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. When walking such back-country trails, MONTANA MOUNTAIN CHRONICLE host Toby Bridges always carries a .44 Magnum revolver, just in case of a run in with wolves or perhaps a grizzly.