Our journey West actually began driving east, coming home from a Colorado ski trip. My wife turned to me, and in a plain and simple voice said, “It’s time for us to step back from running our businesses, simplify our lives, and move west”.

Like many outdoorsmen, I have always dreamed of living in the West, but it never seemed possible, and it certainly never seemed to be the right time. Right time or not, how could I argue with her logic?  To make a long story short, though neither of us had ever been in Montana before, we landed in Missoula.

Moving to Montana was a dream come true for me. I could not wait for elk season!  It literally kept me up at night. Now that I was an official resident, I was able to do actual scouting trips and explore the impressive Big Sky country. Boots on the ground preseason scouting was a new phenomenon for me. When I had limited time off and had to spend 18 hours driving from Missouri to any big game hunting state, there wasn’t time for specific scouting trips. In the past, I was forced to arrive at a chosen spot and start hunting, good or bad.

So, this year was a real treat for me. I prepared all spring for the upcoming elk season. Unfortunately, I did not know a single hunter in Montana which meant that most of my scouting trips and hunts were destined to be solo missions.

Even so, I was more than ready to embrace solo hunting. Driving down, packing in, setting up camp and hunting solo was going to be an adventure, but I was ready and willing. I had never really hunted in grizzly or wolf country, that would make solo hunting even more interesting.

Scouting For Elk But Encountering Black Wolves

I prepared meticulously for this trip. I drove down, packed in a few miles and began to glass a beautiful meadow. I was actually in the Montana backcountry preparing for the upcoming archery elk season. Amazing.

I did find plenty of elk. Some might call that beginners luck, but I would say it was the hours upon hours of time I spent pouring over harvest data and scouring Google Earth.

Then came the wolves. The sun was beginning to set on the meadow, when a couple of black wolves showed up at the far end. I was in complete awe. They were the first wolves I‘d ever seen in the wild, not to mention the fact that they were black wolves. As I watched through my spotting scope, the two quickly became nine as seven more crested the hill. They seemed to be stalking a few cows with calves that were grazing and must have been just over the rise the whole time.

At this point, I wasn’t worried. I was completely engaged in the moment.

As the light started to fade, I decided to move on and find a campsite before it got too dark. When I stood up to move, the wolves caught my movement. We were instantly in a stare down at 250 yards. I watched them, still not to concerned at all.  My thoughts were focused on how cool it was to lay eyes on actual black wolves.  After a few minutes had passed, I decided to get moving.  The wolves scattered and ran over the rise. Problem solved.

So I thought.

Black Wolves All Around Me

After just a short distance of hiking, I was entering the dark timber line. As I took my first steps into the timber, the wolves began to howl. Those eerie howls ran through my body like fire, and my mind began to work overtime. If you’ve ever heard wolves howl, that close, you know exactly what I am talking about. Having my pistol and bear spray on my belt gave me a little comfort. The sound was both eerie and fascinating.

I began to talk myself through the situation. I convinced myself that I was prepared for just such an encounter. It was no big deal, right?

The reality is that you can plan for intense situations all you want, but until you face them, it’s hard to predict how you will respond.

The wolves closed the distance in the dark, moving in and out of the range of my headlight. They seemed to know exactly how close they could get. My anxiety heightened when my headlamp died.  Thankfully, I had an extra battery, but it still took some time, standing there in the pitch black of the new moon to get it changed out.

I’m surprised my neck was not sore the next day from continually looking behind me. As I pushed through the thick black trees, the wolves were 360 degrees around me howling incessantly. They tracked me for more than two miles. I tried hard to distance myself from them, but they were glued to me. Looking back at the situation, I suppose they were just curious, but I will admit a I was more than a little nervous.

A Sleepless Solo Night

I ended up accepting the situation and stopped to pitch my tent. I crawled into my Big Agnes Fly Creek 2, with my 357 magnum pistol in one hand and my bear spray in the other. The wolves howled most of the night seeming only yards away from my tent at times. I finally dozed off at some point in the early hours of the morning. I woke up with my gun and bear spray laying on my chest exactly where they had started the night. Obviously, the wolves never bothered me.

This was my welcome to hunting in Montana.

As cool as it was to see my first black wolves, it made for a mentally tough and sleepless night. I ended up packing out the next morning and returning home. This experience only served to harden my resolve. I was packed into the same area solo scouting again the following week.