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History: Wolves

By H.A. Riviere, Pincher Creek, Alta. Reprinted from the October 1949 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

I will relate some facts about range conditions way back in 1884. Although the calves and colts in the Cypress Hills Country were never weaned and the buffalo on which the wolf packs fed were no more, I have no recollection of any damage done to stock by wolves on my range at that time. But in the foothills they ran in packs and inflicted serious losses on stockmen. Every big ranch kept a pack of coyote dogs. The Walrond, Cochrane, Oxley, Bar U, Quorn and many others kept packs. These dogs would make short work of a coyote, but the wolf was another story. They could stop a wolf so a rider could run up and shoot him but I have never known a dog pack to kill a full-grown wolf without man’s help. The explanation is that the hounds were shorthaired and every time a wolf got a slash at them he would tear a chunk out. One such experience was enough to convince a hound that getting within reach of a wolf’s teeth was bad medicine. If the dogs closed in on the wolf all they got was a mouthful of fur, which did no damage to the wolf but gave him the chance he wanted to get at the dogs. One good slash would put any ordinary hound out of commission. I have run the Bar U, Walrond and other good packs and believe me no dog would tangle twice with a wolf. They would heel him, and stop him long enough for a rider to get up and pull the wolf from his hind-quarters, but kept carefully away from his front end.

While I worked range riding for Dr. Warnock who was then running the Walrond horse ranch, Doc McEachern, who was general manager and lived in Montreal, sent out a big slate-coloured stud dog, an Irish wolfhound, as wolves were at least twice as heavy as the greyhounds and the deerhounds they used for coyote dogs. “Hector,” as the dog was named, was supposed to give his pups weight. He weighed well over 100 pounds. Well, Hector had plenty of sand but no experience with wolves. One day Lou Murray and I ran into a bunch of half-grown wolf pups. The old bitch wolf ran over the brow of the hill. Hector spotted her and after her he went. We were busy getting the pups which had scattered in every direction. When we got through with them we went after the old one. Lou felt sure Hector would kill the old bitch, if he could catch her, but I had my doubts. Sure enough, not 100 yards from the brow of the hill there lay Hector, his belly ripped open and badly mauled. It looked as though his back was broken as he had a big gash over the loins.

The High River Horse Ranch imported a big German boarhound. He weighed about 145 pounds, but he was slow and could not keep up with the pack; also being smoothhaired, I do not believe he would have stood a chance with a big wolf. A. J. McLean of the CV at Taber told me he had weighed a female wolf killed near Taber. Her weight was 176 pounds. The heaviest wolf I have any record of was killed by Frank Bedingfield on his place west of High River above the Duke of Windsor Ranch. He was coming home with a load of logs on a sleigh. His collie dog came on the high run to the sleigh and a wolf popped out of the timber right after him. Frank picked the dog up and put him on the load, but the wolf kept circling the team and Frank feared he was going to jump the horses. When he got home the wolf, who was still following, stopped on the brow of the second bench watching the dog. Frank got his rifle, put the dog back on the load and drove back up the hill. He put the collie off the sleigh and as soon as the wolf saw the dog he made for him and was not over 20 feet away when Frank shot him dead. He was such a big heavy brute that Frank had quite a time getting him on the load. However, he decided to get his weight, but having no scales he drove down the next day to the Bar U, just a couple of miles down Pekisko Creek, where the dead wolf tipped the scales at 217 pounds. I was working at the Bar U at the time but was out on the range so I did not see him weighed, but the boys who helped Frank all agreed on 217 pounds as the weight. I have killed quite a number of big wolves but I believe Frank’s wolf holds the record for this part of Canada.

While on the subject of wolves I have never known of an authentic case of wolves, singly or in packs, molesting humans. I have been in a place on Moose River, north of Athabaska, where two big packs of wolves were operating, one of over 40, the other over 30. They would pull down and clean up a big bull moose but trappers in the district never even bothered to carry a gun. They said as soon as wolves got the human scent they beat it out of sight, and only by accident could you get a shot at them. These trappers collected the bounty of $25 on only three pelts. Their story was that one night they heard an awful racket on the little frozen-over lake not over 200 yards from the cabin. Their sleigh dogs, which they kept chained up, seemed very excited, but they waited until daylight before they investigated and there on the bloody, tramped-down snow were three dead wolves, and the horns and big bones of a large bull moose.

For more of the past from the pages of Canadian Cattlemen see our History section.

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