Grizzly bears are formidable predators, and even accomplished hunters like gray wolves will steer clear of them in normal circumstances. But wolves sometimes cooperate in large numbers, so it’s possible that a few of them could cause trouble for a single bear. By Jason Ryan’s count, 11 wolves are more than enough.
That’s how many wolves he saw Monday during a hike at Jackson Lake, when a grizzly bear wandered onto the scene. Ryan captured the encounter in two minutes of amazing video and posted it online Tuesday. “Showdown in the Mud Flats” has since been viewed thousands of times.
“I was photographing greater yellow legs sandpipers, and noticed there was a wolf,” he said. “So I got a couple of pictures, and noticed another wolf, and as I was watching that one, more started appearing out of the willows.”
Ryan is the general manager for Signal Mountain Lodge, at the southeastern end of Jackson Lake. On his day off, he took his four-year-old son for a hike near Lizard Creek Campground, near the north end of Jackson Lake.
As the lake level has fallen toward the end of summer, vast mud flats have been created, and that’s where Ryan was bird-watching.
After hiking nearly a mile onto the flats and watching birds and a few wolves at a distance, Ryan’s son was ready to go home. But dad was engrossed by a grizzly bear facing off against several wolves that were not backing down.
“I’m watching something pretty cool,” Ryan can be heard telling his son on the video.
“Something pretty cool” turned out to be a skirmish between a harried grizzly and a rotating roster of four or five wolves at a time from a total of 11. Ryan said 10 can be seen in the video, but a younger, smaller wolf is not visible out of frame.
It may have been that smaller wolf the others were defending, or it could have been a carcass or an effort to protect a den, Ryan speculated. Whatever the reason, the wolves moved aggressively to chase the grizzly out of the area, and after a few close encounters in which no animal appeared seriously wounded, the bear made a retreat into thick vegetation.
That’s where the action, and the video ends.
“We never saw the bear again,” Ryan said.
“After that, the wolves seemed like they were pretty proud of themselves, and they grouped together, walked north and started howling. A couple of them just sat down and howled for while, and a lot of them disappeared back into the willows,” he said.
Ryan has worked at Signal Mountain Lodge since 1997, when wolves had not yet extended their range south to Signal Mountain, and grizzlies were a less common sight.
Despite seeing plenty of bears and several wolves since then, Ryan said he could not recall seeing anything that compares to Monday’s showdown.
“It was an incredible experience, and I’m glad I could share it with people who are so excited to see it,” he said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].