Wolf Kill, Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (Winter Count #2)

This is part two to this story, started here

3:00 P.M. We hadn’t seen much game and started thinking maybe they had cleared out with the wolf’s arrival. We decided to break back down the main Stillwater trail towards Woodbine and head for the West Stillwater trailhead before we lost the light. When we arrived at the spot where the wolf had howled, I glanced to my right, across the river, half hoping he would be sitting there.Bull moose standing in the Stillwater River

He wasn’t.

What was, though, was a bull moose.He wasn’t very large by bull moose standards, with a fairly small set of antlers. He didn’t look healthy in fact. He was standing ankle-deep in the river, watching us, not moving, almost unsteady on his legs. Something about the way he was standing didn’t seem “right.” Of all the animals I do not want to tangle with, a bull moose, particularly a sick one, ranks near the top. We stopped and watched him for a few seconds, standing still, trying not to disturb him or cause him to charge. I pulled out my small pocket camera that shoots pathetic postage-stamp-sized shots and fired off one (see right).

That night we stayed at my father-in-law’s cabin in Nye, just down the road from the trailhead. We sat up late into the darkness around the wood stove talking about the wolf and that moose: what pack the wolf might have left (it’s a straight shot up the canyon to Yellowstone’s Slough Creek which contains two of the larger packs in the park), about what might be wrong with the moose; that the moose would likely winter down low on the Stillwater; and that if he was sick, that wolf would likely be on him pretty soon for a meal.

A few weeks later, Sara, the girls, and I were celebrating the new year at the cabin. I got itchy to head back up the trailhead with a pair of hip waders, wade across the river, and see if I couldn’t find out what had become of that moose. I also wanted to take a better camera.
Sara went with me, though without waders she couldn’t cross the river and I knew better than to try another across-the-river toss.

As I waded out of the river and came up on the far bank, this is what I found (click on any photo for larger version)

His hind quarters had been ripped off him.

His fur was everywhere, scattered across about a ten-foot wide circle.

Wolves prints and scat covered the area, the scat mixed with the moose fur, suggesting that the wolf either came back a few times or stayed for awhile feasting, returning, and feeding again:

I found pieces of his hind quarters a few dozen yards away, scattered as though they had been torn off and flung. It made me think for a moment that maybe the young male wolf wasn’t alone; that perhaps he’d found a mate, and that perhaps one day in this canyon I’d come across a litter of pups.

It’s more likely that he just tore a leg off and reclined further back into the woods, away from the river, to enjoy it in solitude. And as I haven’t seen any pups, or much sign of him since (though I’ve heard reports of sightings), I suspect he’s still up in the canyon alone, hunting.

But even if he’s alone, I glance across the river each time I pass and am reminded that we are not.

Moose Skeleton

Moose Skeleton
Moose Skeleton
Moose Skeleton

Wolf tracks at bull moose kill site
Wolf scat at bull moose kill site

Moose bone found a few dozen yards away from main kill site