From songbirds at the window feeder to elk on Mount Jumbo, Missoulians are used to seeing wildlife munching meals around town.
Scott Peryam was walking around the top of Hillview Way on Monday when he spotted something much different — a possible pair of wolves.
“Sometimes you see elk, sometimes you see deer, or wild turkeys,” Peryam said of his South Hills ambles. “Sometimes I take a picture of the snow if the day is nice.
“Then I saw the two, ah, principals,” he said of the canine pair trotting across a ranch field above the South Hills water tower. “I do a lot of hunting. I’ve seen tons of coyotes. The first thing I thought was: these were big.”
Domestic dogs, coyotes or wolves, the two gray canines were about 300 yards away when Peryam got out his binoculars to take a better look. He also got photos with his cellphone camera, although the “principals” are too far away for a zoom to provide any more conclusive detail.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks carnivore specialist Tyler Parks said the photos aren’t conclusive. But he added Missoula’s wildland-urban interface has plenty of the wild, including wolves.
“We know there’s a pack working Miller Creek (south of the South Hills toward Lolo) and a pack that uses the Rattlesnake,” Parks said. “There was a wolf above the Missoula dump right on the treeline that we verified. There are wolves up Blue Mountain. They’re closer than you realize, but you don’t hear about it until a lion kills a deer in your yard or a wolf track shows up in your driveway.”
However, in a pet-centric community like Missoula, Parks has also had to filter out a lot of misidentifications. A recent report of one black and two white wolves harassing bighorn sheep near Bonner turned out to be three domestic (and very wolf-like) dogs.
Parks said behavior can also be a good clue. A few years ago, he investigated reports of a wolf chasing elk on Mount Jumbo. While photos of the incident were pretty convincing about the size of the canine, Parks said the fact it was chasing the elk uphill was a counter-indication.
“You rarely see a wolf chase uphill,” Parks said. “That’s a losing game, and that’s not how wolves work. They hunt from above.”
The animals Peryam saw weren’t hunting anything visible. This is the time of year some wolves disperse from their packs in search of new mates or territory.
“I was enthralled watching them through the binoculars,” Peryam said. “I drive up there every day to see if I can get lucky again.”