I’ve been asked to write about wolves and, I will be honest, they are a subject I have mixed emotions about. Growing up, I didn’t hear much good stuff about wolves. My Grandfather Ora, who I admired and looked up to, was an amazing hunter with an incredible ability to hit fast moving animals, including wolves. And he hated them.
“The only good wolf is a dead wolf” he would say, a mantra that was repeated regularly. There were more than a few wolves that fell to his quick shooting. As the years passed, I would hear similar things from other hunters and trappers and farmers. Wolves were bad news.
Yet I was fascinated by the mysterious nature of the wolf. Seeing moose, deer and bear was a common occurrence in northwestern Ontario. But wolves? Never. I didn’t actually see a wolf in the wild until I was well into my 20s. Even then it was a fleeting glimpse, a grey shadow slipping through the trees.
However, as I became a more serious deer and moose hunter I would hear wolves. Sometimes they were lone animals, other times in packs. There are not many things that have made me feel like a cave man, but the howl of a wolf is one of them. The incredible, raw response my body has to the sound of a howling wolf is truly something. It shows just how hardwired the fear and respect for the wolf is hard wired into the human DNA.
One of the most memorable experiences I have of hearing wolves howling took place north of the small town of Vermillion Bay, in northwest Ontario. A group of us, including my father Gord Sr. and oldest son, Devin, were hunting some cut-over areas for deer in early November. This was a decade ago, when deer were plentiful and wolves on the upswing. We were set up in the evening and it was a gorgeous calm night. The cut-over was very still, but as dusk approached a single howl broke out. Then another. And soon some wolves were barking and yapping and making all manners of racket. The sound carried forever. As if that wasn’t enough, another pack fired up on the other end of the cut. It sounded like a half-dozen animals as well. I can’t speak for my hunting partners, but the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Then, just as fast as it started, the howling stopped. Not one of us saw a single animal.
In recent years, I’ve taken to scattering trail cameras around my hunting areas. Although the lion’s share of the pictures is of deer, bear, foxes and crows, there are also wolves. It’s been fascinating to see how wolves appear in the frame and disappear just as quickly. Many of the animals seem to be tracking deer, bucks usually, often alone or in small groups. As much as I know I should dislike seeing a big, grey timber wolf in my favorite hunting spot, it’s also exciting.
During the past couple of years, the wolf population has grown to such a point in the northwest that they are having a negative impact on moose and deer recruitment. You don’t need to be a biologist to know this. Timber wolf kills are easy to identify. Wolves are very good at what they do, and God made them to be an effective predator. Because of this wolf bumper crop, over the past couple of years I’ve bought a $10 wolf tag. The landowners where I hunt don’t want wolves around as they eat pets. I’d like to see a few more moose and deer survive as well. Yet so far, I’ve not been in a position to pull the trigger on a wolf. And I honestly wonder if I could.
Last fall, I did see a wolf in the far end of a field I hunt. It caught my movement almost immediately, even though I was hundreds of yards away. In short order, the big grey timber was flat out running, graceful and oh so dog like. It was an enormous timber wolf. Scary big. I was thrilled and a little intimidated.
It’s hard to imagine a northern Ontario wilderness without the fearsome presence of a wolf.
By Gord Ellis