Yellowstone Reports

Printer-friendly version

Happy Holidays

My Wolf Week
by Dan Hartman

Dec. 27, 2014

     In the last two months I've been a carpenter, plumber, electrician, roofer, mechanic, wood cutter and guide.  Now that I've got my cabin projects done, it's time to get back to doing what I actually get paid to do.  Photographer.

     Day 1     When I arrived just after dawn, watchers already had the wolves spotted on a deer carcass west of the Confluence.  Through the poor light and river fog I was able to make a few shots work, nothing great.  They eventually moved farther out and I headed home.

     Day 2    As I approached the Buffalo Ranch, the Lamars came streaming across the highway in front of me.  One pup stayed deep and I backed up a hundred yards, but he only circled back to the east, so I pulled forward.  To my surprise, the other six were still milling around on the close hillside, some pups were even sitting.  I drove on by to park in the Crabtree pull-off.  I got out of the car, layed my lens on the roof top and began firing away.  As usual, the light was poor.  Clouds to the east blocked any possible morning sun.  Looking for groupings, I swung the camera back and forth framing first these wolves, then those over there, knowing in a moment they would move upslope.

     They were starting to do just that, when Rick and another photographer pulled in beside me.  I got a few more shots, then decided to move on.  At the Slough Outhouse my friend, Steve, was walking up and down the road.  He waved me over.

     "Wolf tracks everywhere! There must have been a confrontation between two packs.  They're probably still close by."

     I looked at him doubtfully.  I admit there were more wolf tracks than I'd ever seen.  In a fifty yard stretch just up the Slough Road tracks literally covered every square foot of snow.  But, a confrontation?  Just then I spotted a gray explode from the rocks above us and to the east.  It was running, tail tucked looking over it's shoulder at some unseen pursuer.  It crossed the road and raced to the river and disappeared.  Minutes passed when I realized a gray was standing on a boulder above us.  It vanished before I could get a shot.  More time passed when howling began from across the river soon to be joined from unseen wolves just above us.  Finally, first one wolf then two more appeared near the top fo the rocky outcropping.  They milled around a bit then moved up through the rocks to disappear.  I deduced these were from the Prospect Pack.

     Howling continued for the next hour, but no more sightings of wolves so I headed in.

     Day 3     It snowed all night into the morning.  We were busy shoveling 8" out of our driveway so I didn't make it into the park.

     Day 4     We droved into Bozeman for supplies and a little last minute Christmas shopping.  We drove through the valley in pre-dawn.  Rick was patrolling Round Prairie so I  assumed the Lamars were close by.  On our return trip at dusk, two Lamars were feeding on the old bison carcass at the east end of Lamar Valley.

     Day 5     Another storm overnight.  It took us an hour to shovel the driveway.  Then it was on to the roof where I raked off two feet of heavy snow.  Next we split and hauled enough wood to last through Christmas.  Some days it's work just to survive the day.

     Day 6    The Lamars were on a kill just past the Old Lamar Picnic Area.  I climbed a hill east of the carcass and photographed black and gray pups feeding off and on.  I don't value carcass shots much.  They're really a dime a dozen.  All of a sudden the gray pup shot off chasing an unsuspecting coyote.  He raced across the road and down to the river.  At that moment the plow passed by covering the whole scene with a cloud of powdery snow.  Suddenly the gray re-appeared not far from us, climbing up onto the road and loping back to the carcass.

     Steve and I retreated to a rise jujst above the Lamar Picnic Area.  From here we could see the remaining wolves bedded on the far slope to the north.  As the sun finally filled the valley, the wolves slowly moved up the snow covered slope until they finally crested the top where they bedded.  The frosted trees of Druid Peak sparkled in the distance.  Even though they were far away, the beautiful scene provided a good photo opportunity.

     Day 7    The Lamars were still hanging out above the elk carcass.  A black and gray presently came down to feed.  I didn't take any shots, deciding instead to drive back to Pebble Creek.  I spent the next half hour photographing two sparring bull moose.

    Late afternoon, I returned to the carcass to check on the wolves, but another storm was moving in.  Visibility was poor and getting worse by the minute.  I saw no sign of wolves, but they were probably there.

     Well, there was my wolf week.  As always in wolf photography you're always fighting your old ememies, poor light and distance.  At least with digital one can pump up the ISO to make some situations work, which wasn't the case when shooting slides.  I was given a couple of opportunities which is all one can ask for.  

     For some reason this week reminded me of the old days.  Of times just after the wolves were released.  Then instead of Lamars, Junction Butte and Prospect Packs, it was the Soda Buttes and later the Druids. And the faces were different.  Back then it was just Bob and me.  No matter how far back I go, Bob has already been there.


View slide show

Happy Holidays!!!

Running Through The Fog

The Lamars


Prospect Wolf

Gray Pup

Climbing The Slope

Frosty Scene

Sparring Moose