Bryce Oldemeyer, a field tech for Idaho Fish and Game, pulled one of his trail cameras last month to find this incredible sequence of photos that captures a trio of wolves chasing down a cow elk. The camera was positioned on the top of a ridge along a well used game trail that Oldemeyer had scouted earlier. He knew there were wolves in the area from scat and tracks that he had seen, and he was hoping to catch one on camera. But he never expected to capture them in the middle of a hunt.
The photos were taken from the heart of the Lolo zone in northern Idaho, which has been a focal point of the wolf wars in the West for years. As wolf numbers increased, Fish and Game managers and hunters watched elk numbers plummet. In 1992, when herds were healthy, Fish and Game aerial surveys counted about 11,000 elk in the Lolo’s management zone 10 and zone 12 combined. Then when the same surveys were conducted last year, only about 2,000 elk were counted in the two zones combined.
On a statewide level, wolves don’t have too much of an impact on elk numbers, but they can devastate local herds like in the Lolo zone, says Blake Henning, Vice president of Lands and Conservation for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. While elk have the ability to bounce back quickly under the right conditions, the Lolo zone herds are in a dire situation. About 20-25 calves per 100 cows need survive each year for an elk herd to be sustainable, which is a ratio the Lolo herd hasn’t been meeting. With out some serious help, it’s conceivable that the Lolo elk herds could disappear completely, he says. “We might be too far gone,” Henning says.
Luckily, help is on the way. Last week Idaho started selling wolf tags to residents for only the second time in decades (the first hunt was in 2009). Idaho is expected to set it’s wolf quota at 220 animals. The overall wolf population in the state is more than 700. The state was allowed to open a hunting season after Congress desisted the wolf in April.
Meanwhile, wolves continue to pick off elk. Oldemeyer’s theory about this series of photos is that two wolves chased the cow out to the ridge while another (in the bottom left corner) circled in front of her, cutting off her escape.
With the elk surrounded, one wolf closed in and latched onto a hind leg. It seems like this elk will soon be another uncounted animal in the Fish and Game’s next aerial survey.
The next frame is blank. There’s no blood and no carcass.
Two weeks after these photos were taken, Oldemeyer searched the area to find the kill site. He found no sign of bones, hair or blood. He even checked the backside of the steep and rocky ridge, but it was empty. It’s possible that scavengers picked the area clean before Oldemeyer got there, or the elk somehow got away. What’s your theory? Did the elk get away?
Just minutes later, two more wolves fill the frame. Oldemeyer’s thinks that these wolves were trailing the first three and could be part of the same pack. Maybe they’re coming to join in on the feast?
With these photos fresh in his camera, Oldemeyer says he plans on getting a wolf tag for the fall. He says most hunters are happy that wolf management has gone back to the state. “[The state] has done it’s research with flyovers and population estimates,” he says. “It’s not the old-timer shoot’em and get rid of them mentality anymore … times have changed.”
Henning echoed this sentiment. “There’s been a lot of frustration over the last several years and we’re excited the state now has a chance to manage wolves,” he says. “The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation isn’t against wolves, we just want a managed population.”
These are aerial survey numbers for the last several years from Zone 10 and Zone 12 in the Lolo Zone 10:
1989 – 11,507
1992 – 7,745
1994 – 9,729
1998 – 5,079
2003 – 2,643
2006 – 3,452
2010 – 1,473 Zone 12:
1989 – 3,763
1992 – 3,452
1994 – 3,315
1995 – 3,832
1997 – 2,667
2002 – 2,048
2006 – 1,658
2010 – 705
To see trail camera photos of a coyote chasing down a fawn whitetail go to
. Killer Coyote
Check out these incredible trail camera photos of wolves chasing down an elk in Idaho’s Lolo zone.