Familiar to readers of fieldandstream.com is regular poster Robert Millage, better known as “idahooutdoors.” Now, it seems, Millage is getting known by everyone in the country with an interest in wolves.
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Tuesday, the 1st of September was the opening of Idaho’s controversial wolf-hunting season. Millage, a fifth generation, 34-year-old Idahoan from Kamiah–who is a dedicated outdoorsman when he’s not a realtor with Idaho Land and Home or guiding hunters for Selway Ridgerunner Outfitters–has seen the explosion of wolves in his state, and the (coincidental or not) steep decline in elk numbers. All of which made him look forward to the chance to take one of Idaho’s big game quota of 220 wolves.
On the night of August 31st, Millage was in the north-central Idaho mountains between Units 10 and 12 in the Lolo hunting zone, about halfway between Kamiah and Missoula, Montana, scouting for wolves. He was scouting them the way he does elk, going to the tops of drainages and listening for their calls, until he located the howls of a pack below. Then he raised his camp and got ready to hunt in the morning.
At 3:00 a.m., Millage was set up behind a log on a rockslide, on an opening above the edge of the timber. He had a Tikka T3 topped with a Burris Diamond scope. He was shooting a .243 Winchester loaded with 100 grain Remington Core-Lokts. As he waited for shooting light, it was like some vampire movie as he heard wolves howling all around him; and he took comfort in the.357 on his hip, even though it wasn’t loaded with silver bullets.
When light broke, Millage began making a coyote distress call–wolves hating coyotes even more than they love elk. And in twenty minutes, a long and lanky 80 pound gray wolf with black hackles stepped out of the timber below, looking for the source of the calling.
As Millage held the wolf in his crosshairs, it may have winded him because it turned and trotted back toward the timber. Figuring it was now or never, Millage let off the safety and fired. The bullet took the wolf behind the shoulder and it flipped over and lay dead. If this wasn’t the first big-game hunter-taken wolf in Idaho, or in the entire Northern Rockies in the US, it was damn close.
By four that afternoon, Millage was in Lewiston, checking the wolf in with Idaho Fish and Game; and “excited” barely describes the reception he received there. Because of the 90 degree temperatures, Millage had the wolf tucked up on the front floorboard on the passenger side of his SUV, the A/C cranked up to max to make sure the hair didn’t slip. And within minutes he had an estimated 15 to 20 fish and game employees crowding eagerly around, all wanting a look.
When the media were alerted, Millage became a celebrity and a villain. As of this writing, his name and “wolf” on Google pulls up 277,000 results. Initially, the e-mails and calls he received, from people identifying themselves as members of groups such as Defenders of Wildlife, were overwhelmingly negative, if not downright nasty. But Millage kept his cool and remained polite. Now there’s been an upwelling of support from other hunters around the country who understand the necessity of managing an apex predator like the wolf, and that states such as Idaho are capable of carrying out the job, as they have done successfully with cougars, black bears, and grizzlies.
Presently, only a handful of wolves have been taken in Idaho, probably because hunters are waiting to see how the season goes, or does not go. A lawsuit–brought by the Bozeman-based law firm EarthJustice, representing a coalition of 13 “conservation” groups–to return the wolf to federal regulation under the Endangered Species Act, and to halt the Idaho hunts as well as those planned for Montana later this month, is now before US District Judge Don Molloy in Missoula, Montana; and a decision is expected sometime next week.
Millage has his wolf, though, and ranks it with his other lifetime trophies, including a 182 mule deer he took. He would like to have the wolf made into a full body mount so his boys, ages three and four, will have it to enjoy as they grow up. So if there’s any good taxidermist out there who might like to volunteer his services, Millage would be pleased to hear from you.
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