Wandering wolf

This 2014 image from a remote trail camera released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows what is believed to be the mate of wolf OR-7 on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon. 

Courtesy photo

Brian Scott watched in horror in a ridge top meadow as two running canids appeared out of the fog and sprinted around his flank in a sort of half circle as a third continued straight at him at a lope.

At a distance of 27 yards with an animal coming on a run, Scott felt there was no time to take a warning shot then reload. Wolf or coyote, "It meant to make contact," he said during a breakfast interview recently, sharing some ham with his children and half-heartedly working on a short stack of pancakes. "I was terrified. I screamed and raised my rifle. All I saw (in a scope) was hair so I shot."

A 38-year-old small business owner, Clackamas, Oregon, resident and youth soccer and baseball coach, Scott hasn't slept much or eaten well since the Oct. 27 incident, the state's first self-defense wolf killing since they began spreading back into Oregon from Idaho.

At the shot, Scott said the pair of wolves on his flank disappeared and a fourth wolf briefly howled somewhere below him as he walked, shaking, to where the wolf lay, then retreated to nearby timber to compose himself.

"It was definitely not a coyote," he said. "I hiked back to camp and got (hunting partners) to go down with me and confirm it was a wolf, then we immediately called the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police."

A biologist and trooper showed up with forensic equipment, GPS units and a video camera; surveying the scene and evidence and taking Scott's statement.

"I didn't run; I didn't walk away or touch anything," Scott said. "I didn't know what to think. I don't even have a bear or cougar tag.

"People envision this jerk hunter out to kill anything, but that's not me. It frustrates me they don't understand. I'm a meat hunter. I was looking for a spike elk. This wasn't exciting. It ruined my hunt."

Two days after Scott's incident hit the media, he said he still can't explain the .30-06's bullet path into the wolf's right front shoulder and out the left side.

"I screamed, raised the rifle and saw fur," he said. "Who knows how it was moving in that split second? I don't and was more interested in defending myself." Perhaps, he agreed, the bullet was deflected by bones, a common occurrence.

The biologist told Scott he'll run DNA samples to see whether the uncollared wolf, about a year or year-and-a-half old female, is related to a pair the state tracks under the OR-30 collar.

Scott said there were numerous skeletal remains of deer and elk in his party's Starkey Unit hunting area, suggesting a pack lives there rather than just a pair.

His encounter isn't likely to be the last of its kind as wolves continue to spread into the state from Idaho, descendants of controversial releases in that state and Yellowstone National Park.

And, yes, there are reports of wolves attacking humans in recent years; mostly in Alaska and Canada, where the re-introduced wolves were captured. Some were reported in Idaho.

Interactions with humans are inevitable during popular big-game hunting seasons in prime wolf habitat. There already have been extended conflicts between ranchers, farmers and other rural residents in Oregon and Washington.

And while we humans have certainly altered our thinking enough to make room for wolves, rather than extirpate them again, so must they take their chances with us.

Odds will always be against a wolf running straight at an elk hunter while two of its litter mates possibly close in from his flank.

The root issue goes far deeper than wolves trying to find a semblance of their former niche.

There are almost daily Internet defenses of sea lions, cougars, coyotes and even nuisance beavers by other well-intentioned but largely misguided individuals and organizations.

There is no going back, folks.

This Pollyanna attitude that society can somehow by sheer willpower return to a Disney-esque world of natural balance is misguided and myopic. Wolves are no more majestic than spiders in the natural order. Niches open in nature and critters fill them. Period.

Humans must accept the responsibility to manage where, when and what we can't completely restore; and accept that some things can never return to normal.

"People need to come together and not react; to understand what's going on out there," Scott said. "There's no exposure to the reality until a wolf is killed ... I'm not demonizing wolves ... people must stop demonizing hunters and ranchers."

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