Side Trail Story
Jess Hardy's Studies of Wolf Packs
Tom Sheehan

Side Trail Story

Day had swung in on top of Jess Hardy as he listened to the wolves welcoming dawn in their own way, and him never seeing it but hearing them across a lake or down a tight file where a mountain gave up the right of way to a worn path. Never did he see them on that path, bashful, he thought, or not liking the smell of him, or the odor of any man, always accompanied by spent ammo smell, piggery specks that butchers release, cayuse remnants gone to steady pot, every one of them bearing aromas most men never catch hold of on their best days.

His interest in “them thar critters” was established early in his days.

The current lot of wolves, about 9 of them, likely “owned” the territory and he heard knowledge of their tactics and traits from the mountain men he had befriended over the years, each one of those men often suddenly disappearing without a word or a good sign on one of their regular days. It was like looking for one damned egg for breakfast and falling down dead on the spot or getting rushed off a mountain by a boulder on the fly, and being breakfast in reverse order for the very pack that often brought their music to one’s ears, at least those that listened like

Wolves, Hardy learned from eager listening, were carnivores of good size and range all over the hills of the area, and, of course, much of the mountains of all the West he’d ever get to travel, but they were shy and cautious near gents with guns but, unlike the dog, had never been tamed or trained, “keeping to their own thing,” as one mountain man often said.

He also learned that there were three species of them over his years that yowled out their music, frightening new folks to the area, and yet were “operatic” to gents like him. He learned from many older men, and from some Indian wise men that there are three species and about 40 subspecies of wolf, according to their wisdom and teaching, in some places, like those tribes which gathered such knowledge over the centuries and were never disputed on any point of interest or information, like “comin’ from the horses’ mouths being wolves for a word or two.” Each one of them, as tradition tells it from the very tongues, were always bound in loose company as young companions sharing some small village compound kept in place by skins and stakes that come in as many different sizes as there are animals for the taking by bow or lance. “One must use all he downs to the last drop. We have only so much coming to us, and that’s it.”

The most common type of wolf for them was the gray wolf, or timber wolf. Adult gray wolves grew to be 4 to 6.56 feet long and weighed in at 40 to 175 lbs. The gray wolf had mostly thick, gray fur, although pure white or all black ones might be seen in the same pack. 

Hardy remembered his interest being spiked by another species, the red wolf, though a bit smaller, which grew to 4 and a half feet 5 to 5 and a half feet long, and hitting the scales at 50 to 80 lbs.

Wolves, he learned for fact, were found in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa. They tended to live in the remote wilderness, though red wolves preferred to live in swamps, coastal prairies and similar wet forests. Many people thought wolves lived only in colder climates, but wolves lived in temperatures ranging from awful cold to awful hot, like anywhere from 70 to 120 degrees on the regular scale.

The Eastern wolf, also known as Great Lakes wolf, Eastern timber wolf, the Algonquin wolf or the deer wolf, was distinct from Western cousins. Eastern wolves used to live in the northeastern states, but resided as a whole mostly in southeastern Canada. Some folks say that red wolves and Eastern wolves might be hybrids of grey wolves and coyotes. 

For sure, wolves hunted and traveled in packs as their way of survival. Packs didn't consist of many members, usually, with only one male and a female and their young. This usually meant about 10 wolves per pack.

A pack’s leader was known as the alpha male. Each pack guarded its territory against intruders and even killed other wolves that were not part of their own pack. Wolves, he was informed, are nocturnal and hunt for food at night and sleep during the day.

Wolves, it was known, are voracious eaters and can eat up to 20 pounds of food during one meal. Since they are carnivores, their meals consist of meat that they’ve hunted and brought down for the pack.

Gray wolves usually ate large prey such as moose, goats, sheep and deer. Normally, the pack of wolves find the weakest or sickest animal in a herd, circled it and killed it together. Wolves attacked and killed domestic animals as well as animals found in the wild.

Red wolves eat smaller prey such as rodents, insects and rabbits. They aren't afraid of going outside their carnivorous diet and eat berries on occasion, too.

Jess Hardy, it is said, began to write much of the foregoing data in a small book of loose pages connected by a clip he made with his hands from odd bits of metal found along the way and which he’d stash away in his saddle bag “for sometime use.”.

One elderly and local man in Montana said, “I saw Jess Hardy ascriblin’ in those pages one time beside an open fire years ago near Missoula in the Northern Rocky Mountains before the snow set-in. I betcha that little pack of words, if you’d come across it somehow, could get you a passel of dough these days, betcha my bottom dollar.”