I went out on a glorious Saturday afternoon to look for wolves. They had been supposedly making kills and cruising around antelope flats and the Gros Ventre river all winter. I had yet to see them but had seen tracks in the road. As I headed towards Kelly I could see a helicopter moving erratically at low altitude, way way way out in the flats. I got my binocs out and could see the copter chasing animals which I was sure were wolves. I watched for a few minutes then drove into a nearby turnout where there were two people and a bunch of gear (including a helicopter door). After talking with them for a few minutes, I was invited to stick around. They said that the helicopter was returning shortly with some wolves. Huh? Holy crap! "Can I take pictures?" I asked. "Sure, you can even touch the wolves, pet them, whatever you like." Double holy crap! The helicopter arrived and they proceeded to unload three sedated wolves right in front of me.
Then the copter took off and went to get a fourth wolf that had been darted. They shoot tranquilizer darts from the helicopter to sedate the animals, then land/hover and load them into the copter. Everyone ducks and covers the wolves' eyes as the copter takes off to keep them safe from the flying snow/debris generated by the copter.
While the copter is gone, I get to go meet the three wolves. The team (US Fish and Wildlife) begins working on them. The ultimate goal for the day seemed to be to get some wolves from this pack fitted with radio/GPS collars. They also took temperatures, measurements, blood, etc. while they had access to the animals. And they let me hang out, take pictures and pet them too. Awesome!
Soon the helicopter arrived with the fourth wolf.
It was shocking how big these animals are. And shocking how much they seemed like a domestic dog (at least when they are sedated) to me after a while. I could see Fletch and Lulah in their eyes. Even though I know they are one of the most efficient and feared predators in the world, I found myself very comfortable around them and felt sympathetic toward their plight.
The helicopter pilot was nice enough to take this picture of me and a wolf. This guy was extra sleepy because he wouldn't go down after one dart. So they got him with a second dart. zzzzzzzzz.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the story...