David Johnson and I headed up the Gunflint Trail to spend the morning calling moose. It was a calm morning, which made for perfect moose calling. Sounds carried into the distance echoing across the landscape. I used my mouth to imitate the sound of a love-sick cow moose, which is amplified by a fiberglass cone handmade in Alaska. When used properly, it sounds amazingly like a cow moose. After calling for 10 minutes we heard what at first sounded like a loon about a quarter-mile to the north. After a couple more calls we realized that it was the howling of a wolf. Each call brought the wolf closer.
After about 15 minutes, the howling came from directly in front within the pines. We also heard wolves behind us. The pack split up, circled us, and communicated with their howls. We realized that they actually thought that I was a cow moose and were wondering if they should attack. We weren’t really alarmed, but it was an adrenaline pumping moment to be surrounded by a pack of wolves that think you are something to eat.
The last howl we heard was to the south and we decided that they moved on. I continued calling and soon saw David, who was at a higher elevation, taking photos. The wolves circled us twice and were now spread out in the vegetation. The wolves David was photographing darted from one spot to the other trying to drive us toward the other wolves. I kept calling and David told me later that every time I called, the wolves reacted with more excitement. David signaled me that a wolf crossed the trail in front of us and whispered “white wolf.”
I had moved closer to David to try to get to a point I could see the wolves. That was a big mistake! At least one moved across the trail so I needed to get back to where I was first set up. I retreated to my original post and there in front of me was the white wolf about 50 yards away. I tried to get my camera in the right spot and he sensed my movements. Before I got off a photo, he moved behind the nearest bush. I was really bummed that I didn’t stay put. I would have gotten a photo of him staring right at me. He retreated keeping the bush between us until he was out of sight. I am sure he was disgusted that their moose breakfast just evaporated. David and I talked about the encounter and thought this was a once in a lifetime adventure. At this point, we didn’t realize that this once in a lifetime adventure would happen two days in a row.
The next morning, we returned to the area but called about 2 miles further south. It was another perfect morning with a light fog and no wind. I called for about 20 minutes before we heard a bull answer us with two rapid grunts. Every time I called his grunts got closer.
He was just about to come out of the thick trees when we noticed to our left wolves darting through the vegetation. The brush was too thick to see them the whole time, but we saw several wolves. In the middle of the old logging cut is a slash pile left by the logger. To our amazement, the wolves walked on top of the pile and were in plain sight in front of us. They were led by the white wolf, who we guess is the dominant male. They heard my calling again and just watched us from their vantage point.
The white wolf looked older and has a torn ear and scars. I am sure these are from fighting over years to remain dominant.
Soon, six wolves were standing on the pile. We couldn’t believe that we saw the same pack two days in a row. This time, though, they came in completely silent. We hadn’t heard one single howl. The white wolf was the first to move and the others followed in the direction of the bull and out of sight.
Ten minutes later, a seventh wolf appeared in the same spot. David and I just looked at each other and couldn’t believe the extraordinary events we had just witnessed. Along with the fact that the blond wolves are rare in Minnesota at less than 1 percent of the population.
By Paul Sundberg