Seagull Outfitters Paddler’s Tales
Wolves of the Quetico
By: Steve Volkening
For the last six summers I have been fortunate to have made canoe trips into the BWCAW and Quetico with Seagull Canoe Outfitters. They have been instrumental in nurturing my growing love for the North Woods.
I began with a fully-outfitted group trip to Little Sag Lake in the Boundary Waters with a group of men at my church. I also spent two summers in Seagull’s “Little Sag” cabin on the Sag Corridor with my wife, who prefers electricity and indoor plumbing over camping in the wilderness. Each trip, I’d buy used gear at the end of the season from Debbie. It started with an old canoe pack. Over the years, I brought home a used kevlar Mad River Explorer, kevlar Bell CJ solo, PFD, and paddles.
Mostly recently, I gave up on group trips in favor of a tandem trip with my good friend, John Woodard. Neither of us fish. Instead, we are attracted to the beauty of God’s creation and the chance to see more wildlife and less people. I’ve seen plenty of moose, white-tailed deer, porcupine, river otter, beaver, and lots of noisy pine squirrels. I’m also an avid bird watcher. No trip to Canoe Country would be complete without loons and eagles.
My best wildlife experience so far happened on our tandem trip last August. John and I purposely chose a bit more remote route to maximize our chances of seeing animals. I had noticed large canine foot prints in the mud along some of the portage trails. Although I knew that people sometimes bring their dogs along with them, I was pretty sure that these were wolf prints. Janice Matichuck, the ranger at the Cache Bay station, told us that she thought that we were the first group through some of these trails that year (and we were there just before Labor Day). Besides, there were no shoe prints, just large canine prints.
Our luck paid off. As we approached the entrance to the Starr Lake portage, a large black-phase adult Eastern Timber Wolf stood atop a lichen encrusted boulder only 20 to 30 yards from our bow. It looked at us for a few seconds and then jumped down into the ferns and brush. As we glided in closer, it re-emerged. It stared at us and we stared back. It was hard to believe that we were so close. The encounter lasted perhaps 30 seconds and then the wolf loped out of sight and was gone.
After returning home, I called the International Wolf Center in Ely and learned that only 2% of wolves in northern Minnesota/southern Ontario are black. 98 % of them are gray, thus their common name is Gray Wolf.
John’s long lens for his camera had broken earlier in the trip. The accompanying photo was taken from the bow seat with a small digital camera without a lens. That brief encounter with a beautiful wolf was one neither of us will soon forget.