There are no fiercer teeth than the winds roaring through the passes of mountains scraping the skies at 12,000 feet. Screaming down through the valleys of rock and scree, roaring onto the valley floor. Freezing everything in its path with the ferocity of wolf jaws.
The buffalo are headed to a feeding ground. The snow is shank deep and piling up at the rate of 4” every hour. They have another 3 miles, two wolf packs, 3 hot springs, and continued open flank to the bone-chilling winds, to go.
There are five now.
When the herd began they were a small herd of young bulls and aged centurions. But with the cold and dangers of the trek, their numbers have dropped steadily by the mile. The first was a yearling male, who, along with a starving cow joined the bull herd in the early mile of the herd’s march. The young bull lost his way, during a brief five-minute snow squall, that even the rear-guard missed. In no time the wolves had its throat and fate sealed within steeled jaws.
In another two miles, another young bull and the starving cow fell through the crusted snow, into the boiling thermals below. Their death was slow but sealed.
The herd continued.
Another fell to wolves during, yet another, snow squall. Two more young bulls simply gave up and would not rise, no matter the herd’s bellows. Buffalo don’t poke and prod fallen members like elephants, they grunt and bellow. If there is no response, the herd moves on, leaving the fallen behind.
Onward, the herd struggled.
For the next six miles, the herd broke trail in the ever-deepening snow. The big lead bull was a massive beast. He stood a clean 8 feet at the shoulder and near the length of a Conestoga wagon. Weighing in at just over 2200 pounds, quick as a snap, ferocious to snort and the uncontested leader of this herd, he broke that trail. Laying wide a much easier path for his herd to track.
It was also a freeway for the wolves.
The now incorporated packs of the Weya and Woihangye caught the scent of the buffalo. They were 25 wolves strong; a most formidable predatory sword. Each wolf’s belly growled with hunger; painfully desperate for meat. They were also a new confederation of previously warring packs. It is the fuel of a ravenous duo; hunger and desperation; that can drive even the most unlikely of unions.
The wolves caught the scent not 2 miles behind the weakening buffalo. As they closed in their pace quickened. They could smell their meal. The snow, as they passed, glistened with a frozen line of drool, as their saliva glands kicked in. There had been rumblings amid the confederation most of the morning, but now, they moved as one. The pincer-like pace and solid formation would have pleased even the most expectant of Roman Centurions.
The lead Tatonka sensed the wolves approach long before they struck. He grunted and rumbled but to no avail. The rest of the herd were too intent of shouldering the wind, while enduring snow and cold, to catch his warnings. Onward they trudged. The bull continued to sense the arrival of danger and continued to raise the alarm. His senses told him, in no uncertain terms: they could not stop. He knew there would be death to pay in any pause-of-pace taken.
The pack caught sight of the buffalo at around 1200 yards. Their sight was impaired by the wind-driven walls of snow, opening and closing like a signal corp lamp. The Alpha male and female instinctively knew if they had trouble seeing the buffalo, the wolves, to the bison, were invisible. And the buffalo had to be having trouble smelling them. The wolves knew the buffalo were not aware of their presence; they had not picked up their pace, nor circled up.
Surprise was the trap they prepared to spring.
The bull pulling up the rear; the sixth bull in the herd line; was the younger brother to the lead Tatonka. There was an unusually close bond between them. Their shared ability to sense danger and respond with a lightning-quick action that made them formidable to predators as well as a dynamic leadership team. They were the dominant team; a force to reckon. This was their key to holding sway of this herd and for breeding with dozens of cows each year.
When the younger bull sensed the wolves, it was already too late. Mired in especially deep the sixth bull was compromised and unable to strike as we would normally. He bellowed and offered up grunts for help. The lead bull had already given the signal for the rest of the herd to ring-up and face their formidable adversaries. But due to fatigue, screaming wind, and snow they did not respond quickly. The lead bull continued to snort, bellow and grunt as he made his way to the back of the herd. He was now all about confrontation.
An aggression the wolves did not anticipate.
The wolves surrounded the last bull with such speed it stopped immediately in its tracks.
A fatal choice.
With a ferocity born through adrenaline, fueled by hunger and the depravity only found in the unnatural confederation of alignment among warring entities, aggravated by instinct, learned distrust and hatred, four wolves immediately attacked the bison’s rear. While six more surrounded the massive head. The rear attack began tearing at the tendons and inner groin. The raging teeth struck with force and precision. The bull was unable to respond with an effective reaction because of the snow depth and surprise. With a split-second response, the frontal attack engaged the bull’s head.
Steering clear of potential horn damage, two wolves dove under the head, coming up from the snow and locked onto the massive neck. Fatigued and shocked the bull’s motions were more detrimental to him than the wolves. The added weight of the wolves flailing under his neck, caused a rear-motion-strain, that within microseconds snapped his mighty tendons buckling his rear end with the immediacy of a .45-70 Springfield to the brain.
Two wolves, busy at disemboweling the bull, were crushed immediately, as the full weight of his 950 pound rear fell on them. However, their damage was well underway when they were snuffed out. Severed arteries were already draining the bull of his life. And the smell of fresh blood enraged the already, hunger-crazed wolves.
In a furry, four wolves rushed in, from the leaning-to-left, right side, and hit the bull’s right shoulder. Their wolf-blitz hit the bull with a combined force of four full-grown, mass-propelled wolves. So hard was the hit, that with all the bull was engaged in – over such a short period of fewer than 60 seconds – the big bull toppled with surprising ease. Before he even hit, left-side-ground, the four-wolf-Blitz, had two wolves already ripping into his soft, warm, and very vulnerable under-belly.
Instinct and adrenaline kicking in on the bull, his front feet were flailing at ‘full-speed’. He went nowhere. But, two more wolves, members of the Woihangye pack, were quickly dispatched with mortal wounds. Gashed wounds amid flowing blood and oozing inner-parts began feeding two members of the opposing Weya pack. Had there not been such commotion going on, this obvious aggression across confederate boundaries, would likely have been the undoing of the alliance and the packs. But it went unnoticed. There was just a much bigger goal to meet.
The story is based upon a painting by Sam Hall, Facebook/OFS friend, from Alpine, UT – called (no name yet)
These are the beginning salvos of a story chronically a winter’s survival, dependant upon strength, brute force, and knowledge compiled over years of arduous living and relentless battle with the foe: weather and predator. Yellowstone is the canvas upon which this epic winter journey is based. Annually it is repeated. Annually the members of the opposition win and lose. Balanced out enough to allow both to survive enough to repopulate, reload and run again another season.