HAMILTON – In the 20 years that Tom Henderson has been hunting mountain lions with hounds, he’s never had a run-in with wolves.
That changed Saturday.
It was about 10 a.m. when the hounds he was hunting treed a lion near Gird Creek, just north of Skalkaho Creek and east of Hamilton, after a two-hour chase.
He and his companions were about 100 yards away from the treed lion and the three dogs when they saw a pack of six wolves appear.
About five seconds later, Henderson said, a wolf grabbed one of Dan Morris’ hounds by the neck and killed it.
“He grabbed it and broke its neck,” Henderson said. “It happened really fast. We started shooting our pistols.”
Henderson said the wolves were initially focused on the dogs and hung around for a few moments before loping off.
“That was kind of surprising,” Henderson said. “I think they were pretty focused on the dogs. We were able to get quite a bit closer even after shooting.”
With the state’s wolf season still open, Henderson said they could have legally shot them.
“All we had were pistols,” he said. “That’s just not very realistic.”
This is the second time this winter that wolves have killed mountain lion hunting hounds owned by people in the Bitterroot Valley. Earlier this year, three hounds owned by a Stevensville man were killed in the Ninemile drainage north of Missoula.
Henderson said that it’s become a fact of life for lion hunters.
“This is the new normal,” he said. “It’s a risk we take. I’m not a wolf fan, but I’ve come to the conclusion that even with more liberal seasons, wolves are here forever.”
“We’re going to have to live with them,” Henderson said.
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In an effort to cut down on the risk, Henderson said he has been putting bells on his dog’s collars in hopes of keeping wolves at bay from the unnatural noise that the bells produce.
“There are quite a few guys that I know that are doing that,” he said. “It’s hard to say how well it will work.”
Henderson owns Bitterroot Outfitters of Hamilton. Most of his mountain lion hunting occurs in Idaho, where he says he sees wolf tracks fairly often.
“Seeing their tracks doesn’t necessarily tell you where they are,” he said. “We don’t really fret over that. In Idaho, they are so common. We see wolf tracks every day.”
Henderson said they had not seen any wolf tracks in Gird Creek.
The dog that was killed was about 4 years old.
Henderson said he didn’t believe the dogs probably even saw the wolves coming.
“They were pretty preoccupied with treeing the lion,” he said.
He is pretty sure that if they hadn’t been nearby, the wolves would have probably killed all three dogs.
Wolves don’t tolerate other canines in their territories, especially in the spring when breeding occurs. Since hounds bay as they hunt, it’s easy for wolves to key in on them.
Henderson has heard a lot of different stories about houndsmen losing dogs to wolves, but none of those had actually seen the wolves kill the hounds.
This won’t the last time that wolves and hounds will tangle.
“That’s our thought,” he said. “It’s probably going to occur more and more.”