Across the snow-covered valley floor from the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, 06, the famous alpha wolf, and her Lamar Canyon pack encircle a bull elk. He has backed against a large, uprooted stump and has his front hooves in a shallow braid of Rose Creek. He is six-feet tall at the shoulder with 6 X 6 antlers and has several ways to kill a careless wolf.
From where we wolf watchers stand, the elk and wolves are less than a half-mile away, visible with the naked eye, and amazingly detailed through the spotting scope. The air buzzes with excited chatter about how this life-or-death drama may unfold; wolves succeed in only one of every five attempts. The Lamar's last confirmed kill was three days ago. They must be famished; they have been gnawing on bones at old kill sites. Feasting on this elk who could weigh 700 pounds is crucial-but not guaranteed.
This bull could be a good choice of prey by 06 for two reasons. First, a big elk means more meat for every member of her pack. Second, this bull is probably exhausted after last fall's rut during which he may have collected a large harem, slept little, expended lots of energy, and not grazed enough to completely recharge. Now, after several months of below-freezing temperatures, deep snow, and poor grazing, he could be even more depleted, more vulnerable.
The wolves crouch, charge, and nip at the elk's legs. The elk, head up, charges...
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Rick Lamplugh lives near Yellowstone's north gate and is the author of the Amazon Bestseller In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter's Immersion in Wild Yellowstone. Available as eBook or paperback. Or as a signed copy from Rick.
Photo of 06 by Leo Leckie