Two weeks after a Clackamas man shot and killed a gray wolf west of La Grande, state wolf experts and advocates say it’s important for hunters and hikers to know more about the reclusive canid’s behavior before spending time in the wild.
Brian Scott, 38, told law enforcement officers he was acting in self-defense when he fatally shot the protected animal Oct. 27. No charges were filed in the Union County incident. It’s illegal to kill wolves in Oregon except under certain circumstances, including self-defense.
Scott is an experienced hunter, according to public records. He said he was out in the woods when three animals began circling him. When he moved into an open area, he told Oregon State Police troopers, two of the animals appeared to move in a flanking position behind him and the third started running toward him. That’s when he fired his rifle, he said.
He initially thought the animals were coyotes, he said, and promptly called authorities once he realized he’d killed a wolf.
Some of the animal’s behavior described by Scott is normal, according to Amaroq Weiss with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. Wolves travel and hunt in packs. They are social creatures and are curious by nature.
It’s unusual, however, for wolves to attack people. “It’s just not normal wolf behavior to view humans as prey,” Weiss said, saying the rare instances in the U.S. typically involve a rabid animal or a badly injured one.
Weiss said it’s important for hunters and others in remote parts of Oregon to understand that wolves will occasionally approach a human out of curiosity. “But once they realize who you are, what you are, they’re not coming for you,” she said.
She said she’s “grateful” Scott contacted authorities. “It’s a courageous thing to do,” she said, “it’s the right thing to do.”
In an interview with Capital Press, an agricultural weekly newspaper, Scott said he was prepared to face public scrutiny for the incident and that he took “no pride” in killing the animal.
“I’ve got to live with what I did for the rest of my life,” he told the newspaper, “I killed a wolf. It makes me almost nauseous to think about that moment.”
Some environmental groups have questioned whether the entry and exit wounds on the deceased wolf were consistent with an animal running straight at a hunter. That concern is heightened by recent high-profile poaching investigations in Klamath County.
On Wednesday, environmental groups announced they would add $11,750 to the reward for information regarding the illegal killing of OR-25 in Southern Oregon. It’s the second time in the past month nonprofit groups have raised additional reward money to nab a wolf poacher in Klamath County.
Roblyn Brown, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s acting wolf coordinator, said it’s not possible to corroborate or invalidate Scott’s claim that he acted in self-defense. She said the incident doesn’t mean people are in any more danger of a wolf attack in the wild in Oregon.
“If someone is concerned for their safety,” Brown said, “make sure that animal knows you’re present.” Hunters and hikers can scare away wolves by yelling, making themselves larger, or firing their weapon in the ground or direction of the wolf, Brown said.
Brown said it is not out of the ordinary for hunters to spot wolves in Oregon. She said she’s spoken to hunters who have encountered wolves — a possibility that’s heightened during archery season, when hunters use more camouflage and rely on elk scents and calls to lure animals.
But after near-decimation in the early 1900s, wolf numbers are rebounding. That means Oregonians will increasingly see the animals in forested areas.
Weiss, with the nonprofit wolf advocacy group, said the state needs to do more to educate people about wolf behavior in general. The state currently just has “basic factual information” online, Weiss said.
The wildlife agency does have online information on how humans should react when in the presence of wolves, and it posted a quiz this fall highlighting differences between coyotes and wolves to help boost awareness. Advocates say the agency should post more explicit information about wolf behavior.