In what is the first documented wolf incident in far southeastern Montana since reintroduction, a male black wolf was shot by a Hammond-area rancher Sunday after it attacked his sheep.
The 2-1/2-year old wolf was far from home — 300 miles by air. That’s not unusual, said Mike Jimenez, wolf recovery project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming.
“It’s a prime age for dispersal,” Jimenez said, as a male seeks a breeding partner.
Although the average distance that wolves will go when seeking a mate is closer to 50 to 65 miles, one wolf in 2008 traveled roughly 3,000 miles in a journey from near Bozeman to Vail, Colo. Others have been documented traveling from Idaho to Oregon and from Montana to British Columbia.
“They’re impressive when they get a mind to move,” Jimenez said.
The 98-pound wolf killed near Hammond had been collared last winter north of Jackson, Wyo., as a member of the Gros Ventre wolf pack. He was listed as wolf No. 751.
A similar-looking wolf was photographed south of Miles City in late August. Reports of sightings had filtered into Fish, Wildlife and Parks offices as early as May. FWP, which is in charge of wolf management in Montana, searched the large area by airplane in October, scanning through about 125 radio-collar frequencies and finding nothing. So the wolf may have roamed the rugged cattle and sheep ranching country for months without running into trouble.
On Sunday, rancher Duane Talcott saw the wolf attacking his sheep in what he described as an unbelievable, almost dreamlike experience.
“It was the last thing I expected to see that morning,” he said.
After shooting the animal, Talcott contacted FWP and USDA’s Wildlife Services, which investigated Monday and confirmed that the kill was justified. The wolf had killed one ewe lamb and severely injured another that had to be euthanized.
Under state law, residents can kill wolves that threaten their livestock, pets or families.
“That’s way out there,” said John Steuber, state director for Wildlife Services. “That’s a new one for us.”
Wolf-dog hybrids and captive wolves were implicated in livestock killings in Garfield County in 2006 and 2007. The farthest east the Montana Department of Livestock has confirmed a livestock kill by a wolf was in Stillwater County, just northeast of the Beartooth Mountains and Yellowstone National Park.
“Otherwise, we have not documented anything even within 150 miles of that area,” Steuber said. “That’s not to say that damage hasn’t occurred. We just couldn’t confirm it.”
Reports of wolf sightings in southeastern Montana have circulated for years, and FWP has investigated several reports, but nothing was confirmed until No. 751 was shot.
“We don’t ever doubt that there could be some accuracy to those reports, but without confirmation we can never be sure,” said Dwayne Andrews, FWP information officer in Miles City.
Jimenez said it’s not surprising that the wolf could wander sparsely populated southeastern Montana without getting into trouble with livestock owners.
“They’re very good predators and very good scavengers,” he said.