Those who've seen a wolverine in the wild count themselves lucky. Those who've seen a wolverine hunting in the wild – well, that's close to snowball-in-hell territory.

Over the Fourth of July weekend up in the Beaverhead Mountains along the Continental Divide in far southwestern Montana, a group of right-place-right-time onlookers got to witness this once-in-a-million sight – and catch it on film, to boot!

The video, taken near Ajax Mountain and posted to YouTube by Whitney Beckley, shows a wolverine making an honest college try for a mule-deer fawn. Its efforts see the lean mustelid – one of the biggest members of the weasel family – swimming a mountain lake, then coming ashore in an apparent effort to cut the fawn off.

Upon the approach of the doe across a snowfield, the wolverine lopes upslope and engages in a bit of a face-off with the adult deer before retreating. Thanks perhaps to its mother's interference, the swimming fawn manages to escape.

It's a remarkable scene, partly for the wolverine athleticism it reveals. Cannonballing into the lake, paddling full-tilt, dashing along the shoreline snowpack, bounding up a rocky mountainside – you can't help but be impressed by the big weasel's venison-inspired peppiness.

Then again, this is a carnivore famous for its dogged strength. In what may as well serve as a dictionary definition of "hardcore", one GPS-collared male wolverine climbed the loftiest peak in Montana's Glacier National Park, 10,466-foot Mount Cleveland, in the middle of winter, powering about a vertical mile up a steep headwall to the top in a cool 90 minutes.

The wolverine in Beckley's video also boasts distinctive colouration, its creamy underside extending across much of its right foreleg.

While commonly thought of as scavengers, wolverines can also be effective hunters of young ungulates such as this deer fawn. In one study in northern British Columbia, the mustelids were the most important predator (in a carnivore guild that also included gray wolves and grizzly bears) of newborn woodland caribou during calving season.

In winter drifts, when its oversized snowshoe paws give it a mobility advantage, the wolverine will occasionally try for full-grown hoofed quarry: earlier this year, equally rare footage out of northern Norway showed a tenacious attack on an adult reindeer in a driving blizzard. And a few years back, onlookers managed to film a wolverine killing a caribou on Alaska's North Slope.

It hopefully goes without saying, but such intense-to-watch dramas are simply the food web in play: wolverines being wolverines, which means taking advantage of any meal opportunity they can.

And as this latest video from the Montana Rockies suggests, the wolverine most certainly doesn't always get her deer.



Top header image: The Wasp Factory, Flickr