Outdoorsman Rich Landers has had his fair share of wolf encounters. He's bumped into the wild canids on as many as ten occasions while exploring North America's wild spaces, and he's yet to have an experience end in injury. Landers attributes his success with the wolves not to blind luck, but to preparedness – and his most recent sighting provides an invaluable lesson in peaceful cohabitation with the predators that share our homelands.

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Image: Rich Landers/YouTube

As Outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review since 1977, and author of several hiking and paddling guidebooks, Landers has logged countless hours in the North American wilderness. "I grew up in Montana in a hunting-fishing family," he says. In fact, he was rechecking a trail from one of his guidebooks when he recently spotted a grey wolf crossing a nearby stream. 

Having educated himself on staying "wolf smart," Landers knew not to run. Instead, he remained calm and immediately called his dog – a two-toned Brittany named "Ranger" – to his side where he could easily attach a lead. 

For the wolves' safety, Landers prefers not to disclose the exact location of the sighting, but he notes that it was near Idaho's Coeur d’Alene River. Several packs are known to patrol Coeur d’Alene's crystal-clear waters and old-growth forests, but encounters like this are few, even here. Despite their reputation for being aggressive, wolves are elusive and tend to be extremely wary of humans. 

"I think people should view my video and see that there's a reason that wolf attacks on people are very, very rare," he says, emphasising that understanding wolf behaviour is particularly important for dog owners. Even when handled properly, bringing your canine companion into carnivore country can actually increase the likelihood of a bear or wolf encounter. And though wild wolf attacks on humans are rarely documented, several reported cases involve pet owners who attempted to intervene during a skirmish between wolves and their domestic counterparts.

"Having the dog on [a] leash reduces that risk but does not eliminate [it]," says Landers. "If you have a dog that chases game it must be on a leash or you're asking for trouble. Ranger is just over a year old so I'm still constantly working with him. We have 'Come' down very well, but you'll notice that I have an electronic collar on him in the mountains."

With Ranger secured, Landers paused to evaluate the situation, watching closely as the wolf paced and sniffed the crisp mountain air. While we always recommend keeping your hands free (and forgoing any filming) during such encounters, wildlife officials have applauded Landers for remaining alert throughout the event. These animals are far from the indiscriminate killing machines they're made out to be, but they demand respect – and you should never take your eyes off their position. 

"I marvel at wolves and love to hear them howl," says Landers. "I also realize they pose a threat to my dog, so I don't drop my guard. My bear spray is always on my sternum strap. Ready to use if needed and offering peace of mind if not needed."

After several minutes, Landers decided to move slowly up the trail to an open meadow – but much to his surprise, so did the wolf. Moments later, the hiker was joined by a second pack member who also began trotting curiously behind him.   

"I've had about 10 wolf encounters over the past 15 years," says Landers. "My wife and I once surprised a pack of at least five at 20 yards while hiking with our daughter, but they fairly quickly melted into the forest. This last encounter was the first time wolves followed me and came close on their own accord." 

As time went on, it became clear that the wolves were not going to move off on their own, so Landers opted for the correct change of tactic: he lifted his arms, stomped his feet and shouted. 

"The two wolves I encountered were classically curious but shied away when I turned at them and yelled," he recalls. "No gun needed, although having bear spray gave me confidence. Had my dog been loose, it may not have worked out that way, experts say."

Even with his experience, Landers regularly checks in with local experts to stay up-to-date on best practice. No two encounters are entirely alike, and the best thing you can do to avoid conflict with any wild animal is to learn about its behaviour, and how to recognize telltale signs that can alert you to potential danger. 

"[Wolves] are experiential learners," he says. "They observe and test to learn. Sometimes that’s interpreted as aggression. If you’ve ever seen a wolf sneak in and make a swift retreat after nipping a grizzly in the butt, you’ll get the picture."

With the wolves tucked into the nearby brush, Landers began the four-mile retreat to the beginning of the trailhead. En route, he met an armed hiker who walked with him to scan the area once more.  

"After 15 minutes, a white wolf showed up on the sparsely timbered hillside," he says. "[The animal was] coming from the direction we had just walked as though it had been monitoring us from above. That was enough for us, indicating we were in a rendezvous area or possibly [near] a moose or elk kill. So we bid the wolves goodbye and headed out. It was a fine day in the mountains."

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