I’d planned a July day hike with my dog along a North Idaho stream for a good dose of outdoor exercise and a cool respite from the summer heat.
The bear spray I keep handy on my day pack saved me a lot of grief that day.
Ranger, my Brittany, was having a blast with frequent splashing romps in the stream. But the mood of the trek changed about 4 miles into the backcountry when I saw a gray wolf crossing to the opposite shore.
I called Ranger, who was 20 yards ahead of me on the trail. He came immediately to my side so I could attach his leash. Wildlife biologists later told me that quick response to my command could have saved his life.
The wolf certainly wasn’t afraid of me and the dog. It stood on the bank checking us out.
I snapped a few photos and waited for the wolf to run away. Instead, for several minutes it paced, sniffed the air and looked around.
With Ranger at heel and my bear spray in hand, I continued up the trail.
I kept looking back as I walked and sure enough I soon saw the gray wolf following on the trail. A second wolf caught my attention down along the stream. It, too, was heading toward me.
I proceeded to a meadow where I had more open space on both sides of the trail.
With bear spray in one hand, I videoed the gray wolf behind me. It paused and glanced at the second wolf before trotting in my direction. Panning the camera as it came closer, my video wobbled each time I looked behind me for the second wolf to appear.
When the first wolf stopped 30 yards away, I started to aggressively move toward it, raising my bear-spray hand to look bigger and yelling “Hey!” The wolf instantly shied away, but only a short way before hanging out in the trees, still watching.
I was never afraid for myself as wolf attacks on people are very, very rare. However, experts say wolves are known to be aggressive to dogs entering their territory. Having bear spray enabled me to be confident that I could protect Ranger and myself as we turned around and headed out.
“The dog probably had more to do with the wolfs following you than if you had been alone,” said Wayne Wakkinen, regional wildlife manager for Idaho Fish and Game, after hearing my story.
“You may have hiked into a rendezvous area where the pack stashes its mobile pups for a week or two before they all move on to another site. Wolves can be especially territorial toward other canids at that time of summer.”
Dirt bikers I know through Facebook reported seeing seven wolves in the same area the following day.
“If your dog had been off by itself and didn’t respond quickly to your call, the outcome might not have been the same,” Wakkinen said.
But everything went well, making the experience a hike I’ll fondly remember.