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for people who care about the West

A wolf tale that’s all too true


Here’s a news item you might recall, though it never got much play in the Lower 48: Alaska wildlife officials targeted more than 600 wolves for death by aerial gunning during the 2006-2007 season. In just a few months, they’d gotten close, killing 560. And as an inducement to hunters, state officials said they’d pay a $150 bounty for any wolf killed in specified management zones -- provided that shooters turned in the dismembered legs of the wolves they’d killed.

The buried news item spurred me to write a story – I called it “Tables Turned” -- that you might want to think about when you’re sitting around a campfire on some starry night in a wild place in the West. This is how it begins:

“Not so long ago a family lived deep in the Alaskan wilderness. The gray-haired father and mother had an older son, two daughters and twin boys. They lived by hunting caribou and moose. They took the old, infirm animals because they knew that healthy ungulates could kill them. Inadvertently, they strengthened the herds. Also, when the hunt was not successful, they at least kept the animals moving, which gave everything green a chance to grow. This was the way of nature.

“After a kill, the family ate in turn with the father and mother eating first, the twins last. The remains of the carcass fed many of the neighbors: bears, coyotes, magpies, ravens and eagles. After a big meal, Father often carved sticks into toys for the twins back at the shelter.

“One bright winter day, Father led his tribe on a hunt across the frozen tundra. The twins were old enough to tag along. A mile from the tree line, Father heard a strange sound in the sky. As the distant buzz grew closer, it became rolling thunder. Suddenly a Cessna appeared above the tree line, its engine screaming like a prehistoric bird of prey. Father barked orders to his family to flee for their lives. They scattered, running in all directions through deep snow.

“In the cockpit, the pilot wore wraparound sunglasses and a ball cap with Canis Lupus Air stitched above the bill. His client, a sharpshooter from Phoenix, balanced against the open window his semi-automatic .30-06 rifle loaded with 180-grain soft-point ammo for maximum damage.

“The plane’s shadow pursued Father across the snow. The crack of the rifle shot broke the air. Father felt the hot lead rip through his chest. His white world went dark. The client found his next target. The son was almost to the woods when he was hit in the hip. He rolled in the snow trying to bite at the wound when the second shot came. He lay still on the blood stained snow, red on white.

“Two more shots rang out, and the sisters were dead. Several shots missed the agile mother who was able to make it to a snowdrift where the twins were cowering. She covered them with her body. Another bullet pierced the mother and one of the twins. Their breath ceased.

“‘I can’t believe this much fun is legal!’” said the client.

“‘They’re just varmints that kill my moose, my caribou,’” said the pilot. “‘Let’s head over to Christmas Valley. There’s another tribe there we can have some fun with.’”

“When the fading sound of the plane was swallowed by the wilderness, the surviving twin emerged from under his still warm mother. He sniffed and nudged his sisters, brother and father. No one stirred. The twin, tiny in a big land, trotted off toward the tree line, the tremolo in his small voice barely audible.”

Brian Connolly is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He lives in Bend, Oregon, and is the author of Wolf Journal, a novel, and Not Far From Town, a collection of short stories.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].