February 23, 2012

Jackson Hole Wolf Drama

JACKSON WYOMING – On a cold and snow day two miles north of Jackson Wyoming in the valley called Jackson Hole a wildlife drama played out right above the highway that travels between East Gros Ventre Butte and the National Elk Refuge.  This spot was conveniently located right above a large turnout that rapidly became a busy hub of activity for Jackson Hole photographers, wildlife enthusiasts, and distracted skiers who wanted to witness one of nature’s life and death dramas that are usually only available to many on Net Geo Wild and other programming on TV.

On the butte about a hundred yards off the highway, a black wolf was harassing a mule deer buck that had already lost his antlers but still proved far from defenseless. For two days, the wolf would make aggressive moves at the buck. The buck having wisely chosen brilliantly defendable positions to maximize his survival refused to be a pushover meal for this voracious predator.

To many spectators it appeared the wolf was playing cat and mouse with the buck because the wagging tail and the playful nature of the wolf, he did appear to be having a great old time. But I, the skeptic believes the wolf was enjoying what I believed to be a tactic of harassment and attrition, the wolf hoping the buck would wear out and lose his will to fight on.

The buck would find a relatively flat spot where he could face the wolf were behind him would be a drop off where the wolf couldn’t come up from behind or if another wolf joined the other they would both or all come from the same direction. Here, the buck would catch some restless rest between assaults from the wolf.

As the standoff played out the wolf received several good examples of what a sharp front cloven hoof feels like when applied to the head and body and, the wolf’s respect for the buck grew exponentially after each successful whack.

For those who thought it was a game for the wolf I think my video tells a different story. When the buck attacks the wolf seems to be quite head shy because of lessons learned the hard way yet intermittently he continued his assaults.

The wolf from time to time would rest and snooze as did the buck, the deer probably less restful than the wolf. The wolf would also leave now, and then I assume to go eat some field mice to hold him off for what I assume he thought would be his main course. When the wolf would leave the buck sometimes would search around the butte for a more defensible position and get a bite to eat. The wolf would return to where the buck had been then sniff out his new position, and the harassment would start anew.

As the buck gained confidence from the new respect paid by the wolf, the buck would move a short distance from his rampart defenses to eat but always on the lookout for a change of behavior of the wolf so he could rapidly refresh the wolf’s memory of his powerful hooves as he moved back to his defensible position.

Many believed the wolf was a young one just trying to learn his trade and this may be so because after two days effort the wolf departed and left the buck to fight another day, and hopefully next year in October this buck can once again become photo fodder for my camera.

Wolves - Images by Daryl Hunter

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