Update November 10 – 11: YWP Patrols through the Storm

“The polar vortex hasn’t kept the hunters away, so we can’t let it stop us.”

Freezing temps

Sunday evening, an arctic storm blew in, dropping temperatures below 0 with wind chills down to a frigid -45 degrees. Despite this, we’re committed to patrolling areas of high hunting activity in the Gardiner area.

(Warning: Graphic photos)

On the morning of the 10th, after spotting a herd of elk roaming the top of a ridge, we heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots. After a half dozen rounds were discharged into the crowd, one elk had been fatally hit, and a figure in blaze orange emerged from the nearby forest to claim his kill. We monitored the area for hours afterward, watching the hunter gut and process his trophy. After the guts were removed from the body cavity, the hunter made the convenient decision to kick the remaining carcass down the ridge, tumbling and falling hundreds of feet, to provide a more comfortable weight for his descent down the mountain. The gut pile left intact to rot, we believed it imperative to have eyes on the top of that ridge as long as needed, to be sure no wolves or other predators would be baited into an early death at the hands of a hunter seeing an advantage.

Hunter gutting elk

Hunter gutting elk

As night grew closer, team members attempted to ascend the mountain, only to prematurely abort due to falling darkness, extreme temperatures, and the prospect of predators. The following morning, however, we successfully completed our trek, and reached the gut pile with plenty of daylight for better observation. Upon reaching the peak and coming in contact with the remains of the elk left behind by the hunter, we noticed the tell-tale footprints of predators and scavenging birds; we suspect magpies or grey jays. The view from the top was nothing less than surreal, and we remained invigorated to defend this homeland of the wild & majestic grizzlies, wolves, and others to which we feel innately connected.

Despite the frigid temperatures, we’ve remained committed to monitoring numerous areas of high hunting activity, and to continue seeking out areas we’ve recognized as suitable for locals to dump carcasses in their attempts to bait predators. We are actively watching regions where Yellowstone wolves have been killed in the past two weeks, including just over the boundary, where elk continue to migrate in search of suitable winter habitat. While Wolf Management Unit (WMU) 313 has been closed due to a filled quota, we remain vigilant & on the ground in WMU 316, where one wolf stands in the way of yet another filled quota, and other WMUs in the surrounding area, where quotas remain non-existent.

The top of this ridge is where we found the gut pile.

The top of this ridge is where we found the gut pile.

UPDATE Nov 7th: YWP Finding Kill Site Near Yellowstone Park Boundary

Yesterday we set up camp in an area right on the border of Yellowstone National Park, where we had been told that two wolves had just been killed. We were hoping to find evidence of the wolves killed. Wolves are also known to travel to areas where they know missing members of their pack have traveled, in an attempt to find them. We were concerned for the well being of these wolves as the hunting zone 313 had still not officially closed at this point, even though the wolf kill quota had already been filled. Considering the speed at which wolves have been killed in this area recently, the delay in closure of this zone 313 to hunting provided ample opportunity for the quota to be exceeded.


Hunters deliberately leave carcasses to attract the predators they are hunting

We found a kill site, with blood soaked earth and drag marks, in the area where wolves had been killed. There were no gut piles left over, so it is hard to say what exactly this kill site was from. We also encountered a bison hide and bones, possibly dumped as bait for predators.

On the same day, we started experiencing literally hundreds of hostile text messages, which were reported on in a Bozeman Daily Chronicle article. While there are obviously some hunters in the area who find our presence challenging, we have been receiving plenty of positive community support since we arrived in the Gardiner area.

We also received a voicemail message from a hunter telling us he had killed three wolves. We reported this to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) who said they would look into the matter.

If what the hunter said is true, then this would have far exceeded the established quota allowed. We also expressed concern over the 313 hunting zone not been closed yet, despite the quota having been filled. Shortly after this phone call the zone was officially closed to hunting.

November 5: Encounter with the Outfitters

Early morning patrol

Early morning patrol. Photos by Julie Henry.

Just across the river from the safety of the park sits Hells A Roarin hunting outfitters, just one of many hunting groups offering wolf hunts for the right price. Since we arrived back in Montana, we’ve been documenting their morning and evening activities. From daybreak until dusk, the landscape is dotted with hunter orange. Most are searching for elk, and we believe that many of them have wolf tags as well.

Hunter compound

Hunter basecamp

This morning we positioned ourselves at a trailhead as a party from the basecamp was returning from their morning hunt. Not wanting to encourage a confrontation, we made ourselves approachable. Our goal was to capture evidence of a wolf hunted outside the Yellowstone boundary.

When the hunting party did return, we were unsure of how the encounter was going to go. Initially they were suspicious (they recognized us from an unexpected encounter we had yesterday). The youngest approached us and we immediately told him that we were with Wolf Patrol and intended to document any wolves being killed, but we have no intentions of interfering with hunts. The interaction was positive and friendly. He later appeared to be reassuring the rest of his party that we were not there to start a fight, although a few still displayed defensive body language.

Hunters returning to trail head

Hunters returning to trail head

The hunters had returned to the trailhead empty handed, so while there was no documentation of wolf hunting, we feel positive about our interactions with these hunters and the fact that they know we are here watching their activities.