Early one spring morning I set out to see whether a favorite sow grizzly had emerged from hibernation, hopefully with a new batch of cubs on her heels.
At the crack of dawn on wildlife photo excursions, I always pull over and ready the camera for quick action because often wildlife photo sessions can be measured in seconds instead of minutes or hours. As I usual I pointed my camera at an object of average reflectance and put my exposure needle in the middle and fired off a test shot to check the exposure. A quick glance at the camera back revealed an exposure that appeared close enough for the rapidly changing light of the early moments of dawn.
When I got to my dirt road turnoff into the woods, I found several people standing around comparing camera backs so I pulled over to see what I had missed. I was shown several photos of wolf tails making a hasty exit to the east by several ecstatic tourists. As much as I wanted to stick around and chat, I wanted to go see whether I could get some wolf photos of my own so I wished the tourists well then headed to the place only the locals know.
Alpha female wolf of the Pacific Creek Pack that roams Grand Teton National Park
I headed up the dirt road where I had been hoping to find the grizzly sow and cubs, but I now was more interested in finding wolves. I poked along in first gear so I could scrutinize the surroundings closely because often all you see is the movement of some bushes or hint of movement in the shadows that may give away the location of wildlife in the woods.
On the tree line ahead I saw a cow elk peacefully grazing across the meadow of sagebrush about one hundred yards away, and I kept watching her as I poked along. Prey animals will tell you by their behavior if predators are near then suddenly she broke into a run for her life. Without seeing them but knowing the wolves were chasing her because of her panic I threw my car into park, jumped out and sat in the sagebrush for a low perspective so I could include the snow capped mountains in the photo and fired toward the action. An audible nightmare soon consumed me; I heard the shutter open but didn’t hear it close much less the music of a motor drive singing to the memory card. I normally leave my aperture wide open and adjust the camera with the shutter speed as I am usually shooting wildlife. I had forgotten that I had been shooting rainbows over barns the previous evening and although I had performed a cursory and hasty light adjustment on the camera the damn thing was set at f/22 and 1/5 of a second, damn it! I had the proper exposure for shooting statues from a tripod. The wolves were in hot pursuit of a fresh elk breakfast, and I couldn’t shoot.
I put all attention on my camera to get some proper adjustments fully expecting the wolves to be gone by the time I was could resume shooting. When I looked up four wolves were standing there starring at me. One wolf was twenty yards to my left and three more forty yards to my right. Why they aborted their chase was beyond me but I sure was happy to see their smiling faces when I looked up after correcting my careless camera catastrophe.
I instinctively and rapidly fired off several shots as they looked at me curiously cocking their head from side to side trying to make sense of it all. The wolves then took several tentative steps toward me as they were trying to determine if I might be food. I suddenly realized I ought to look over my shoulder, as I didn’t know how many wolves were in the pack. Wolves set up ambushes, and I was recklessly tardy about checking my backside.
All was clear and I had about 4 minutes of great shooting before the wolves decided I was neither a breakfast prospect nor a hors d’oeuvre and the hungry wolves trotted back into the woods.
My foto faux pas made my miss the chase shots but my friend “serendipity” made sure I didn’t go home without a shot.