Hell Hounds

A bear hound training session goes horribly wrong when a pack of wolves go on the attack.

wolf

The sound of barking from below sounded like nothing Scott Richards had ever heard from bear hounds before. Then he clearly made out the sound of five barks and a yelp.

"Snyper!" Scott thought. He didn't know what was happening to one of his best hounds, but something was terribly wrong. Scott dashed 300 yards down the hill before coming upon a 150-pound wolf biting not Snyper, but 3½-year-old Blackey. Every time the hound tried to move, the huge wolf tore into the dog's hindquarters.

It was training season for bear hounds, and Scott hadn't bothered to carry a weapon. The best he could do was run and scream at the wolf as he waved his arms in the hope of chasing it off. But the wolf wasn't going anywhere. Searching for anything he might use to intimidate a killer that big, Scott grabbed a 4-foot length of dead limb from the ground. He charged at the wolf and, raising the limb above his head like an ax, took a swing at the beast's head. Three quarters of the way through the swing, Scott felt a thud as the branch caught a tree trunk. Six inches of the dead limb broke off and flew at the wolf.

The dark animal, amber eyes blazing with rage and its face drenched in blood, lunged at Scott, who grabbed a tree and yanked himself up and behind it on the steep hillside. Zig-zagging from one tree to another in an effort to lose the pursuing wolf, Scott ran for his truck, hoping to retrieve his .44 Magnum before both he and Blackey were dead. The wolf had turned its attention back to the broken-down hound. Scott heard fighting barks from Blackey, followed by a single high-pitched screaming yelp, and then silence.

OFF TO A GOOD START

Scott Richards was nearly in shock. The day had gone from fun training to fatal wolf attack in an instant. It was blindingly bizarre—especially since the morning had gotten off to such a good start. Scott's friend Brian Dunlap had driven up from Lewiston, Idaho, with young hounds that were to get their start on trailing bears that day. The plan was to hunt three miles from Scott's home at the edge of Grangeville. Scott turned up the hill on Service Flats Road and released his eight hounds to run ahead of the truck for about a mile in order to warm the dogs up and get rid of any foolishness before the chase. He then chained four experienced hounds on top of the box as "strike" dogs, put the others inside and headed for a rugged, vertical-walled canyon 600 to 800 yards deep.

When the strike dogs began barking at a trace of bear scent, Scott turned loose four-year-old Jasper to see if the track was hot. Jasper responded as if it was, and all of the hounds were freed. Some of the young dogs weren't ready to go, so it was back in the boxes for them. Hopefully, they'd be more eager next time. Meanwhile, nine hounds headed for the canyon bottom. Jasper, Squirt, Halley and Scott's five-month-old, Johnny, had a bear treed in 20 minutes. The other five dogs trailed across the canyon floor and up the other side just a mile and a half from Fish Creek Campgrounds, where they topped out and went over a ridge. They, too, could be heard barking treed. Training doesn't get any better than this.

Scott and Brian went to the closest group of dogs first and found a treed sow and cub. The men made a racket, hoping to persuade the bear to come down and give the pups a fast chase, but she declined. So Scott took some pictures, pulled the dogs off and then drove toward the second treed call. Stopping at a high point overlooking Chapman Creek, Scott and Brian could hear the hounds barking just 400 yards away. Scott suggested they move 200 yards to the low side of a saddle, where it would be easier to reach the truck once they retrieved the dogs. The men couldn't hear the dogs from this lower location, but they knew they had just a short hike through the jack pines, where they figured they would find their dogs.

MAYHEM BREAKS OUT

Cresting the hill, and expecting to hear the roar of treeing dogs, Scott and Brian stood on two little finger ridges looking at each other, puzzled by the silence where the hounds had been baying just minutes earlier.

A moment later, barking could be heard below.

"None of them sound like my dogs," Scott shouted. "Yours?"

"No," Brian yelled back. The intensity of the barking made him think dogfight. Fighting among the hounds is never allowed. Brian grabbed a stout tree limb and ran toward them, eyes on the ground to avoid stumbling. At that same moment, Scott, 75 yards to Brian's right, recognized Snyper's bark and raced downhill, knowing something was wrong.

When Brian finally looked back up, he caught sight of dogs and wolves running everywhere.

"Wolves! We got wolves!" he yelled to Scott. The moment the dogs heard his voice, they came running for protection. Brian dropped his club and grabbed Snyper, the first dog to arrive, and snapped his collar to the coupler at the end of his leash. Brian was picking him up when Bullet rushed in. Brian grabbed his collar as well, just as a huge wolf, weighing about 175 pounds, raced in, clamped its immense jaws across both hams of the dog and tried to pull it from Brian's grip.

The leash slid off Brian's shoulder, so he stepped onto it to hold Snyper and picked up the limb. Brian smacked the wolf across its head as hard as he could swing his club. The wolf was unfazed. Brian swung again, but the wolf saw it coming and whirled toward the man, snapping and growling with rage. The instant the wolf let go of Bullet, Brian snapped his collar onto the coupler with Snyper, all the while facing the wolf down as he would a threatening dog. Lady ran toward Brian as he again lifted the club. Two wolves were chasing her.

The big wolf that had been in Brian's face grabbed Lady by the rear. She spun to defend herself, and the other two wolves attacked at her rear as the big wolf lunged for her head and neck. They stretched the overpowered hound in opposite directions and shook three or four times. Something broke. Lady was dead in less than three seconds.

SURROUNDED

Dropping Lady, the wolves focused again on Snyper and Bullet. Brian picked up the dogs, one under each arm, and backed toward a fir tree. The wolves were 6 to 8 feet away, trying to figure out how to separate the dogs from the man. Wolves don't like a one-on-one battle, and Brian's confidence held them temporarily in check.

Brian could see 4 or 5 more wolves approaching from downhill, making at least 8 or 10 in this pack. He had been facing down the wolves for nearly a minute when Blackey's scream pierced the wilderness. The wolves all took off to join in on the easier kill. Brian, with the two hounds, sprinted for the truck and beat Scott's arrival by seconds. Both men began rummaging for their handguns and then rushed back to the last spot where they had seen Blackey. But there were no wolves and no dog.

After a brief, fruitless search, they knew they had to retrieve Scott's electronic tracking equipment from the truck. Both men went. With a pack this size, operating in a frenzied attack mode, the men had to worry about their own safety as much as the dogs'. They had to try to stay together.

Returning to the attack site, Scott tuned in to Lady's collar signal. Moving the directional antenna to focus on the strongest beeps, he picked up one beep every four seconds. This meant Lady hadn't moved in at least five minutes. He switched to Blackey and got the same reading. Halley's signal repeated the message. Apparently, all three dogs were dead. Scott headed in Halley's direction to find her remains. As they neared where she should be, Halley's signal suddenly went off, indicating she was on the move again. Either she was alive or a wolf was dragging her.

Scott and Brian ran in her direction and found the hound on the road in shock, her head and ears drooping. Her stomach had been ripped open in multiple places. Intestines and tissue hung outside her body a foot on one side and 4 to 6 inches on the other. Her eyes showed severe hemorrhaging, indicating she had been choked unconscious by the wolves and left for dead as they sought to kill another dog. Maybe she had regained consciousness and the wolves hadn't yet found her. Or possibly they were busy eating the other kills.

Scott was nearly inconsolable, certain that Halley would never survive this damage.

"She'll be fine," Brian said, peeling off his T-shirt. "You find the other dogs—I'll get her to the vet."

Brian had been a Marine during two conflicts and was present when terrorists bombed the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983. He had seen a lot worse. He had also dealt with many dog injuries. He pushed Halley's intestines back in place, wrapped the dog in his T-shirt and bound her with a roll of Coban, a self-adhesive wrap used for sports injuries. Scott carried Halley to Brian's truck and returned to help find the others.

TRAIL OF BODIES

It didn't take long for Scott to locate Blackey. The wolves hadn't dragged him far from where the big male had originally lunged at Scott. The hound was dead, lying in a pool of his own blood, his body full of punctures, rips and gashes. His death had been slow and drawn out.

A mere 100 yards away, Lady lay in a heap, eyes open. For one fleeting moment before he knelt beside her, Scott had hope she was still alive, but she had long since expired.

Scott took his remaining dogs home, fed and watered them, then drove to the veterinarian's office, where he learned that, amazingly, Halley was still alive. Entering the back room, he saw a black ball of a dog covered in stitches and swollen to double her normal size.

"Oh my God, Halley...," Scott said. Hearing her name, Halley lifted her head, whined and wagged her tail as Scott knelt to comfort her.

ALL THAT REMAINS

On the way home, Scott called Idaho Fish and Game to report the attack. While officials explained that they were sorry to hear of his loss, they said there was nothing they could do. The agency's hands are tied in such situations because the federal government, not the states, manages wolf populations and sets the rules on how they are to be handled in the event of an attack.

Justin Mann, a government trapper, called and arranged to meet Scott at first light the following day. They checked where Scott had placed Lady in the shade. Her body was gone. Eventually, they found what was left of her in a fresh pile of wolf scat full of black, white and brown dog hair—treeing Walker colors.

A crow cawing from down the hill led them to Blackey's remains. All that was there were his head and spine. Justin helped Scott bury what was left and pile large rocks on the grave. He told Scott that while attacks on hunting dogs are not uncommon, this was the first time he had ever seen wolves actually eat one. He theorized that the wolves had depleted the local game populations to the point where they were seeking alternative sources of food, meaning more dogs and even humans could follow.

Scott walked away realizing that he and Brian had been on the verge of becoming a pile of wolf scat themselves. Had that happened, nobody would have been there to tell the story, and the hunters' disappearance might have forever remained a mystery.

"A wolf weighing about 175 pounds clamped its jaws across both hams of the dog and tried to pull it from Brian's grip." "Her stomach had been ripped open in places. Intestines and tissue hung outside her body."

Dog Gone

IN TALKING WITH VARIOUS PEOPLE after his harrowing escape from a pack of wolves, Idaho hunter Scott Richards learned that when wolves kill cattle, horses or other domestic animals, the wolves are often trapped and killed and the owners typically are compensated if inspectors agree that the wolves were indeed responsible. That's not the case with bear-hunting hounds, unless you live in Wisconsin—the only state that compensates sportsmen for hunting hounds killed by wolves.

Countless outraged local citizens have contacted Richards since his encounter, and from what they've told him, he estimates that wolves have killed 200 to 300 hounds and other dogs and pets in the area. (Most people don't bother to report these attacks because they know they won't be compensated, so there are no confirmed statistics.) A well-started bear hound can cost upward of $2,500, which is a lot of money for a hunter simply to write off. Since Congress promised that ranching, hunting and local economies would not be harmed by wolf introduction, and since bear hounds are involved in two of those three, perhaps the same funding that compensates ranchers should compensate hunters and outfitters for their losses.

SAVAGE WOLF ATTACK CAUGHT ON FILM!

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