The day following Thanksgiving was solo time to head into the woods to camp and track, wandering freely. My dog Taru and I found ourselves on the leading edge of a large storm with dropping temperatures and heavy rain. Holy smokes, is that a wolf track, right there in the snow beneath our feet? Instructors from Coyote Trails have been searching for wolf OR-7 since 2011. Is this really him or a domestic dog?
Not only are these potentially the alpha male, but also the alpha female and some others all moving together. Wow! With the storm looming, it was time to backtrack this trail to determine more about these canines. Did they originate from a truck? Are humans walking with them? What can be learned to corroborate the hypothesis that they are from OR-7 and his pack? The tracks have been through numerous freeze-thaw weather patterns, which tend to distort a tracks actual size, so much more research is needed before it can be safely said.
The back trail led for five miles directly into deep wilderness. The track patterns revealed the canines were moving in an “overstep trot” gait pattern with no veering off to scent mark or sniff at random squirrel tracks. This erratic behavior is suited to the short attention span of domestic dogs, who find the freedom of the woods so enticing they explore and wander everywhere. This trail was focused for miles. Not even farm dogs have this amount of discipline and focused attention.
Wolves are keenly aware and when it is time to travel, they move in a trot as this movement conserves more caloric energy than even walking. Is OR-7 heading down in elevation and taking his young pack with him?
Lying in my dry shelter, as snow fell only 700 feet in elevation above, I pondered the day’s progress. As a scientific tracker, we must first see what the track is not. It is too easy to make a track into whatever you want it to be. By developing a working hypothesis, it leaves one open to add new information as discovered, thus one tracks within the facts.
Tomorrow will be spent following the trail forward in the direction of travel. Dawn ushered in with two bald eagles perched in an old pine snag and the call of two Northern Harrier Hawks. Today, the tracks are very clear in the forested debris, leading in and out of snow fields, across creeks and finally with fading daylight into a well-protected area with numerous bones strewn about. All of these bones have been opened by a large canine to access the tasty and nutritious marrow.
Cougars, bears and coyotes all open large femurs with a telltale sign that is unique to its species. The bones reveal signs of old age and disease in the bones joint structure. This is the last needed confirming piece of evidence to prove the hypothesis of why these tracks are OR-7. To a tracker, there is no better day.
This space has been proudly donated by The Ashland Outdoor Store to Coyote Trails, a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to passing along the art and science of back country wilderness ethics so that people of all ages will embrace a healthy understanding for the inner relationship of all things.