Although I seldom hit the woods with just one objective, the blessing to living in Wisconsin is you can appreciate several things at once. One of my warm weather favorites is mountain biking of course, and when I get the chance and am in the right place, a little tracking as a side dish.
Recently, while visiting a far eastern county forest, I took the opportunity of a late night rain storm to provide only fresh tracks on an early morning ride. Normally houndsmen would be out running bear, but none were in the area that I observed. My knobbie tracks were the only ones on the sandy forest road. Some friends had sadly described a lack of tracks and sign in the area over the course of the past year, but I was hopeful. Deer, turkey and bear tracks were pretty common, with the former scattered everywhere, but what I was interested in were prints from wolves that had been more common a few years ago.
Distressingly, the local game warden had reported five or six poached wolves over the course of the past 12 months in this area and with the newly created wolf hunting season also in force, the pack that once roamed this particular territory had dwindled. Nevertheless, a chance to return and ride the fatbike and explore a little may turn up something.
Forest roads and ATV trails have been in the past good places to track in the summer. The heavy traffic churns the soil up into long stretches of deep sand, fairly easy to spot imprints in the soft surface. The recent rain firmed the surface and made pedaling easier at the least. For miles on end it was clear the whitetails had quickly been out and about after the evening storm. Some sign was mashed in the now drying road, indicating the animals had been out right after the drops had stopped. Others were like perfectly stamped imprints with dry sand grain edges-animals that maybe passed by an hour or two before I.
Deer leave a sure tale scuffed up print that one can spot far down the road-dainty walkers they are not. But a few miles later there were different tracks-more pressed in, one deep, the other less so. Common in the area are coyotes, but their tracks are more oval and the center toes a bit larger than the side ones. These were wolf tracks, an adult and pup, now 4 or 5 months old. The adult stayed the course and had trotted nearly straight down the road for a 1/2 mile. The youngster for the most part did as well, but scattered deer bones in the sand, remnants from a last November carcass dump in the county forest, pulled him (or her) aside, curiosity could not be contained. Sign read that the partial bleached spine had to be pawed and sniffed around, then a quick scat left as a maker before returning alongside the adult, now a ways down the road.
As they traveled together the pup eventually walked in line with the older wolf avoiding any other distractions along the way. I stopped and shot a few photographs, excited that there would be a next generation roaming this area for now. They ultimately turned off the forest lane into a woods trail and from there my tracking would end.
It may be just a little thing-following two animal’s paw prints, but for me, they told a story, maybe just a very brief paragraph of how they live, but the sentences in their steps described their life and survival, something I was happy to read.