The Oregon elk hunter who shot a protected gray wolf believes he would have been mauled or killed if he hadn’t fired when it ran at him.
Brian Scott is being roasted on social media and criticized by biologists and activists who question his story. They’ve keyed in on the bullet’s trajectory, which passed through the wolf’s shoulders, perhaps indicating it was standing broadside to Scott instead of running directly at him.
Scott said he can’t explain it and doesn’t know if the wolf perhaps veered sideways as he fired. Scott said he has replayed the moment in his mind countless times and always concludes he did what he had to do.
“I’ve got to live with what I did for the rest of my life,” Scott said in an hour-long phone interview with the Capital Press. “I killed a wolf. It makes me almost nauseous to think about that moment.
“I take no pride in this at all,” he said. “The only thing I’m happy about is I made it home to my wife and children.”
Scott, 38, lives in Clackamas, Ore., a suburb of Portland. He and his wife have two elementary school-age children and he owns a small business. He said he has hunted since he was a boy in Texas and described himself as a “meat hunter,” someone who eats what they kill. On Oct. 27 he was on his third day of hunting elk in ODFW’s Starkey Wildlife Management Unit west of La Grande, in Northeast Oregon.
Scott said he was in fog-shrouded timber and intermittently saw animals moving around him, but wasn’t sure if he was seeing a cougar, coyotes or something else. He made his way out of the fog to a ridge top and sat for perhaps 25 minutes, then walked out into a meadow. Two wolves emerged from the fog to his left, looked at him, then headed in what he described as a flanking move behind him. A third wolf came running directly at him.
“I screamed, got it in my (scope) crosshairs, saw fur and pulled the trigger,” Scott said. He said he whirled around, fearing the other two would attack, but saw them running away. He heard a fourth wolf howl nearby, and believes a pack was around him. ODFW has not officially designated a pack in that area; instead referring to it as territory of a collared wolf known as OR-30 and his mate. The wolf Scott shot, an 83-pound female, might be their offspring.
Badly shaken, Scott returned to his hunting camp about a mile away and told companions what had happened. They went to the site, confirmed it was a wolf and Scott called Oregon State Police and ODFW.
A casing from Scott’s 30.06 rifle was found 27 yards from the carcass. The Union County district attorney’s office in La Grande reviewed the case and decided not to press charges. An Oregon State Police spokesman said evidence at the scene backed Scott’s story and said the fact that he self-reported killing the wolf was “compelling.”
Scott, who was hunting alone at the time, said he could have hidden the wolf’s carcass and told his companions back at camp that the gunshot they heard was him firing at an elk and missing.
“I feel like I did the right thing,” he said. “I reported it immediately and was ready to face public scrutiny.”
That has surely been the case. On social media and in comments to on-line news articles, posters have called Scott a liar, coward and an irresponsible hunter.
Carter Niemeyer, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who is considered one of the nation’s top wolf experts, said he didn’t believe Scott’s story because of the bullet’s path. “That’s a broadside shot,” he told the Capital Press.
He and others said wolves are afraid of humans. People in such situations should make their presence known, shout, throw things or, if armed, fire a shot into the ground. Niemeyer said people venturing into the forest should carry bear repellent spray, which would work on wolves, cougars or coyotes.
Activists point out that wolves have not harmed anyone since they re-entered Oregon and the state established a management plan. At the end of 2016, ODFW confirmed 112 wolves in Oregon; the actual number is presumed to be higher.
Rob Klavins, Northeast Oregon representative for the conservation group Oregon Wild, said he’s encountered wolves several times in Wallowa County without harm to his hiking party or his dogs, which he keeps on leash in wolf territory.
“This person may have felt fear, but since wolves returned to Oregon no one has so much as been licked by a wolf, and that’s still true today,” he said.
Derek Broman, an ODFW carnivore biologist, said wolves often travel in pairs or packs, and seeing several together does not necessarily mean they were in a hunting formation.
He said wolves are “coursing” hunters, meaning they take down prey by chasing, repeatedly biting and wearing down elk, deer or cattle. They will approach stealthily and charge, seeking to attack in habitat that allows them to move easily, Broman said.
Broman said animals in the wild usually avoid people, and wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare. People faced with a wolf should not run, he said, because that would trigger an innate, evolutionary chase response.
Animals have evolved to recognize certain prey, and humans are “something completely different” to predators, he said.
“On a minute-by-minute basis, wildlife is trying to survive,” Broman said. “If they don’t have a 90 percent chance of success, they’re not going to give it a go. Cougars are so powerful they could do anything, but they don’t.
“For a wolf to come near is not totally unheard of, and it’s not necessarily concerning,” he said. “We don’t know what the animal was keying in on, or if it was keying in on anything at all.”
Scott said critics should put themselves in his shoes.
“I felt I had run out of time,” he said. “I’m a dog owner, I grew up on a ranch, I know how fast dogs are. Twenty-seven yards gave me seconds to react.”
Scott said he doesn’t demonize wolves; he considers them majestic animals. He said hunters and others going into the wild should be aware they are more likely now to encounter wolves. He thinks ODFW should do more to educate the public, an effort that could include posting warning signs at the approaches to known pack territory.
In the meantime, he’s enduring ridicule and doubt about his account.
“This isn’t me sitting there watching a wolf, taking a pot shot, then panicking, calling up Oregon State Police and making up an absurd story,” he said.
“I was being charged by a wolf,” he said. “The wolf is now dead and I got to come home. Whether people want to buy that or not, I don’t care.”