By Lee A. Williams
Originally published February 2001, Alaska Trapper Magazine
It was a brisk January afternoon, the kind with no sounds, flat light and an evening snow shower looming. My dad and I were breaking in trail because of a heavy snowfall the night before. On our snowshoes we packed down a hill before attempting to summit it on snowmachine. At the bottom of the slope we crossed a drainage that was being used by a family of otters as a highway. Halfway up the steep incline we heard a faint sound off in the distance. Barks, yips, and howls emanated from up the stream that the drainage ran into. Minutes passed and we assumed that the pack of wolves had moved off. Then a mass chorus started up with every member of the pack howling as loud and strong as possible. Then, as quickly as it started up, it stopped.
For a few seconds we stood motionless until we realized what had taken place. We hastily pulled off our snowshoes and started our machines. Moments later we were on the river searching. A half-dozen bends up stream we found what we had been looking for. In mid-river there lay a dead moose, freshly slain, as the stream clearly showed. The cow was a small thing, a mere day’s feast for a large pack of hungry wolves. Our engine noise had scared them into the brush, but they had managed to open her up before we had arrived.
We dismounted our machines, leaving the engines on to keep the braver wolves back. Upon closer examination we found a small, gray box attached to a well worn collar that was around her neck. It was an old Fish and Game radio collar that was put there, by the looks of it, some years ago. A small ratchet quickly removed the device which we strapped onto our snowmachine, on top of our snowshoes.
Ever since I attended Alaska Trappers Association’s Wolf School I’ve been waiting for just such an opportunity. Realizing that I had a perfect wolf set, and no traps, we made haste back to our cabin. Once there I gathered all my equipment: two MB750’s, a hatchet, shovel, gloves, cover material, pliers, and trap setters. By the time we had gotten everything together and ready to go it was pitch black and spitting snow ever so lightly. Our return trip was quick, but colder, as is usual with the winter darkness. Once we arrived back at the scene we found the cow, but less whole. Working frantically, though carefully, I go the trap beds dug while dad found a suitable drag. After getting a large old birch in place we attached the trap chains to it, and set the large leg holds. Once I laid the traps in their beds I disguised them using clumps of moose hair that had been ripped off by the wolves. By this time the precipitation had escalated in size and intensity. I put the final touches on the set, making sure no steel was exposed. With that said and done we left, much to the delight of the pack.
The next morning was warmer, likely because of the continual snowfall. I hastily got through breakfast, anxious to see the results of the previous day’s episode. We negotiated the winding trail to the river as fast as possible, not wanting to loose anytime getting there. Once on the large slough we proceeded upstream until we found the fallen beast. And there, lying next to it was a cream colored wolf, as big as any Great Dane or German Sheppard. It was caught in the steel trap, the first ever of its kind to blunder into one I had set in the five years I’ve been trapping. Since I was 10 I have been trapping smaller fur bearers such as marten, ermine, otter, and beaver. I’d have to admit though, it was hardly through my cunning or experience that this had happened, but rather to luck, training, and a case of being in the right place at the right time.
I was fortune as well that I had the right mentor to show me the ways of trapping in Alaska. If it weren’t for Vern Epps of Trapper Lake I would never have been able to have the slightest skill to go along with my good luck.
The next day the traps were empty, but the wolves were still around, barking and yipping in a half-mile circle around the kill. But the following day, my luck improved considerably. I had caught another member of the pack, almost an identical “sister” to the first. She was a dark cream with a thick coat and a weight of about 95lbs.
A few days later we sent an inquiry to Mark Masteller from Department of Fish and Game, Palmer, about the small moose. They were puzzled because the last radio collar study done was well over a decade ago. He called up the retired biologist, Ron Modafferi, whom had done the study on movements and seasonal ranges that this moose was collared for. With the help of old records and the numbers on the radio collar, Mr. Masteller sent me a map showing about 40 plotted locations in 4 years of the study, which were all in a 10 mile radius of her tag site. The moose was tagged on 10 March 1987, and at the time they estimated she was 4 years old. That would have made her 17 years old at death!
After another two days the pack lost interest in their stolen prey and disappeared upstream to pursue other game. For the next two weeks all that visited the carcass were scavenger birds and voles. Before long though, I had found another fallen cow taken by the now smaller pack of wolves. I had a wonderful success on that set as well, but that’s another adventure.