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“Unintentional” First Solo

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

At the age of fifteen or sixteen, my mom decided we needed some girl time, so we headed to my grandparent's cabin to get in some quality hunting time! This was an area I’d grown up exploring and was our family’s “honey hole.” Over the last couple of years, we had all felt the changes happening in this area. Not only were the hunting pressure and the number of hunters starting to increase, but we had also been experiencing the effects of the recently introduced Canadian Grey wolf.

The elk were getting quiet and the people were getting louder, thanks to the motorized access. For someone who hunts on foot, it was starting to make things a lot more challenging. At this time in my life, I was daddy’s little hunting badass but I was also starting to become more independent. I wanted to hunt harder, go farther, and pack more. I wanted to be just like my dad!

I had over-the-counter bull elk and buck rifle tags, and we were running out of days. We usually only got to hunt on the weekends, and we hadn't even seen a deer. My mom decided we'd go to a spot that she had hunted in the past to see if we could turn something up. It was timbered with lodgepole pine, had natural springs, and grassy meadows. Our field of view would be open and the habitat seemed to check all the boxes of where we'd find the off we went!

Our first hike up to the top took it out of me and it was a strike-out! We spent all morning hiking up and got 200 yards from the top when I heard that gut-punching, make you sick to your stomach sound: a vehicle! We were unaware that a new road had been cut through there and sure enough, Mr. Road Hunter came bombing up the ridge to take a peek into the saddle where we were heading. Now steaming mad, we turned around to come up with Plan B.

We moved to another spot and were going to give it one last go before heading home. Mom and I decided to split up, I took the high ridge and she went low. This was the first time I had really ever gone off by myself which was nerve-racking. I made my way up through two little knolls and realized the game had been there too! I found a nice little game trail and started to follow. It had just rained the night before so all the tracks were fresh and I knew that I was on the right track!

I started getting excited when I saw some good-sized deer tracks and figured I wasn’t too far behind them. But then I started noticing other tracks; I wasn’t the only one hunting the deer and spotted my very first wolf track. It’s true what they say, when you see one you know it’s a wolf track. Being the “animal expert” I thought I was (thank you, National Geographic), I’d come to the conclusion that it was a single male or female. My knowledge at the time told me that it was probably young and passing through to catch some easy prey that it could take down by itself. I don’t know how I convinced myself to keep going, but I did. Remember, I was tough, I wasn’t scared of a wolf! Plus, I was carrying my hunting rifle and had a pistol in my backpack. But in reality, I was scared but I didn’t want to disappoint my mom by turning around.

I finally reached the top of the ridge and positioned myself on a saddle that was slightly lower than the two to the North and South. The open timber made it easy to see and if something came down I’d see their legs first and have a chance to get ready as they made their approach. If they came from below, or from a sidehill, I still had the advantage. I unloaded my pack and sat at the base of a tree to get comfy with a nice backrest. About 30 minutes went by without a peep. There wasn’t even a rowdy chipmunk nearby!

As I scanned the area around me, I started to get the chills. I didn't know why, so I just pushed the feeling aside and kept glassing. But the feeling only got stronger. I had this overwhelming feeling that something was not right and for whatever reason, my gut was screaming at me to get back! I was always taught to follow my gut because it’s always right. No longer able to ignore it, I stood up and threw my pack on. Rifle over my shoulder, I stepped around the tree and took three steps when I looked up and realized I was face to face with a wolf.

We both stopped each other in our tracks. I felt like we were in an old western duel, waiting to see who drew first. My mind was racing and in a way, I was just shocked at what was standing ten yards in front of me. Not thinking clearly, I didn’t think I’d have a good enough hipshot with my rifle and was better with a pistol being that close. I decided I was going to be first to draw and in an instant threw my pack off to grab the pistol in my front pocket. Thankfully, the wolf decided he wasn’t going to stick around to see what happened next, and bolted in the direction he had come from. After my not-so-quick draw, I wasn't to get a clear shot before he ducked behind a bush. I left my pack and pistol and advanced towards where he disappeared, hoping I could get a shot on the other side. He disappeared like a ghost and I didn’t see him again.

Then my “animal brain” kicked in and started to think about how wolves hunt and the decoy that they typically send out while the pack flanks around their prey. I was constantly checking all around me and listening for any little sounds to see if that was indeed happening. The ridge was clear so I made my way back to my pack and was getting out of there! As I walked, the shakes started to come on and my legs were like wet noodles trying to navigate down the ridge while looking over my shoulder the entire time.

As I made the clearing, I could see the meeting point where my mom was already waiting for me. All I could get out was, "We need to go. Like, we really have to go now!” She didn’t realize what was going on and we started heading out. I was still shaking like a leaf and couldn’t believe I had just encountered a wolf. Looking back, I’m sure I wasn’t in any danger, but at the time it felt like I had just cheated death! Once I’d calmed down, I explained to my mom what had happened. Of course, she was wondering why I didn’t shoot it with my rifle. Can’t say I was thinking totally straight at the time. All I could think about were those eyes and the way it was hunched down, staring at me. It was so eerie and I couldn’t shake the feeling.

Since that day, I have always carried a pistol on my hip and was ready to go, even while rifle hunting. There is no way I am going to be caught off guard and unprepared like that again. I knew I had been lucky when it ran off, instead of stalking me like the many stories I've heard from other hunters. At that time, wolves weren't afraid of people and were the top dog in the woods. They were also well known in that area for honing in on a gunshot, which to them was like ringing the dinner bell. I knew multiple hunters that had lost their deer or elk’s hindquarters to wolves if they didn’t get to it in twenty to thirty minutes after the shot.

After that experience, I swore I’d never go out on a solo hunt again; I wouldn’t even go on a popular hiking trail by myself. That rang true until 2020 when I finally convinced myself to overcome one of my biggest fears and started solo hunting. Today, I’m still working on overcoming the fear, especially when walking in the dark. It doesn’t help that I’ve been stalked by a mountain lion or wolf at least once a year in the past 6 years! As with everything, though, you just have to take one step at a time and hopefully one day I will feel confident going out on my own.

Follow Shaylin on Instagram at @huntress208.

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