My earliest encounter with 926 was the winter of 2011. We woke up to howling that morning. I snowshoed high above the cabin and paused for a minute to catch my breath. I remember the silence. It was snowing that cold fine snow that stings your cheek.
Suddenly, I heard hoarse panting coming from the timber to my right. It grew closer and louder when out of the green curtain exploded an elk, its head held high, eyes wild. It passed me in a second, disappearing behind a low hill to my left. More panting and out slipped 06, exhausted breaths exploding from her open mouth. More panting and some ten yards behind her mother came a black pup, later to be known as #926.
Though I stood only 40 feet from where they passed, I don't think any of the three even knew I was there. The chase continued on for 250-300 yards when the wolves just stopped. I was standing on a hill to my left when the pair returned exhausted from their unsuccessful chase. This time they spotted me and gave me a long look before circling me from some 40 yards out.
I remember how I was surprised how hard it was to make a kill. But you know, it should be. Killing another living thing should be hard.
Over the next years 06, her pup and I crossed paths every so often. Living at the Northeast entrance, the Lamar Pack frequented the same territory as I.
Of course then the news of 06's death and 926 returning to save the Lamar Pack. A few successful years, then a couple years where the pack barely hung on, even dwindling to only three members.
This year when we heard five pups were seen, everyone was overjoyed. Cautiously optomistic. Maybe the pack can rebound.
Well, then in the last couple of months, the three adults, 926, Little T and White Spot began making visits to our neck of the woods. Their howling made it hard to keep their presence a secret. I personally came across the trio twice.
White Spot would quickly disappear into the timber. Little T would be less cautious, but keep some distance. 926 moved about oblivious to any danger. Like the queen she was.
Now we all know what has happened. The unability to detect danger coming from a human was her downfall.
She shouldn't have been that easy to kill.
We now come to the hunter. He really did nothing wrong. Our laws made it so. He didn't know taking an adult from this struggling pack could be crucial. We all did. We've known the packs situation for years. But someone out of the loop couldnt have known. He didn't even know he had shot 926, the most famous wolf in the world. It probably wouldn't have made any difference. That's what makes this so hard.
In the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning, around 2:30am, Cindy and I were awakened by wolves howling in front of our cabin. It was easily the loudest we've ever experienced. It's funny our yard light burned out the night before (which it does every couple of years), and I hadn't gotten around to replace it. So we couldn't see them. Maybe we weren't meant to.
When daylight came we found tracks of one wolf that came within fifteen feet of our bedroom window. More tracks were in our drive.
They had come looking for 926.