Be careful what you wish for. It could come true in a way you won’t like. Delta County Conservation District employee Rory Mattson found that out on the evening of October 8 when checking out a new logging road near the community of Rock.
Mattson is a forester with the conservation district and he was walking the newly constructed logging road to see if it needed any modifications. He eventually came to a place in the freshly plowed dirt where there were many wolf tracks. One of the prints stood out due to its large size.
Rory put his hand next to the large track for comparison and the print was larger than his palm.
“I thought it would be nice to see the wolf that made that track,” Mattson said, “and I got my wish.”
Rory actually got more than he wished for. Before the day was over, he would be forced to fend off an attack from the very wolf he had hoped to see.
“I actually thought I was going to get bit,” Mattson commented. “I just hoped it wasn’t going to be bad.”
When mattson did see the big wolf that left the tracks that made the impression on him, it was much sooner than he expected, much closer than he expected and under much different circumstances than he could have imagined. After walking further, Rory came to a curve in the road, and when he was halfway into the corner an odor caught his attention. He was wondering what the smell was, but, as he rounded the corner, he got his answer.
“The first thing I saw was blood all over,” Mattson said.
“Then I noticed a good sized doe with a wolf standing over it and another wolf nearby. They were in full growl/snarl mode.
“‘Okay, they are going to protect this kill,’ I thought to myself, ‘so I am going to get out of here.’ I think I only backed up a couple of steps when I heard growling behind me. I turned around and there’s a big male 50 feet away. I’m guessing he would have weighed 140 to 150 pounds. He was standing in the road with a smaller wolf.”
With retreat the way he had come along the logging road cut off by the big male, and the kill in the opposite direction on the road, Rory’s only option to get away from the wolves was to cut through the woods. Mattson was wearing a denim shirt that was unbuttoned with a t-shirt underneath. He extended the unbuttoned shirt to the sides to make himself look bigger and started yelling at the big wolf, but those actions had no effect.
As Mattson moved toward the woods, the wolf moved with him and even approached closer. Then Rory saw some old sticks of pulp wood in the ditch next to the road that were 10 feet long. He lunged to grab one of the pieces of wood to use as a weapon. When he did that, the wolf closed the distance between them to 15 to 25 feet.
Mattson waved the cumbersome piece of pulp between he and the wolf as best he could to try to keep the predator as far from him as possible as he backed up. When he backed into a balsam tree that was 16 inches in diameter that had limbs he knew he climb, Rory threw the wood toward the wolf and climbed the tree to a height of 8 or 10 feet.
“When I looked down, the big wolf was at the base of the tree growling. He didn’t stay there long though. He only stayed at the base of the tree for 30 seconds, then was gone. From the tree, I could see the wolf still standing over the deer carcass. It hadn’t moved the entire time.”
After being in the tree for 20 to 30 minutes, it started to get dark. Not wanting to wait until it got dark if the wolves tried to attack again, Mattson decided to head for his truck while it was still light enough to see. He jumped to the ground, grabbed the stick of pulp and angled through the woods away from the kill to the road. When nothing followed him for 200 hundred yards, he took off running for his truck and made it with no problem.
“I’m sure the aggressive behavior of the wolves was all about the kill,” Rory stated. “I noticed that they had eaten some of the deer, but I probably interrupted their meal. The doe hadn’t been dead long.
“I didn’t see any fear in the eyes of that adult male. He definitely was not afraid of me. Having that stick in my hands helped. Otherwise, he might have bit me.
“I’m going to carry my pistol with me from now on,” Mattson added. “If I would have had a gun with me at the time, I would have fired a warning shot to try to scare the wolf away. If that wouldn’t have worked, I would have shot him.”
It is legal to shoot wolves to protect human life. Mattson said his experience reinforces the need for wolf management to be put under state control and hunting or trapping seasons established, so the animals can be properly managed. There were a minimum of four wolves in the pack Mattson encountered and there might have been as many as five.
Mattson is the second U.P. resident to be treed by wolves. Darrell Jonet from Iron River was forced to climb a tree when charged by a pair of wolves during the summer of 2009 when trying to retrieve his bear dogs during training season.