painting by James Augsburger
Rudy walked on an old timber trail. He carried his rifle, a Winchester 70, 30-06 with loaded a clip. A backpack and sleeping bag were strapped to his shoulders. The trail curled around a large hill covered in thick grass and sparsely arranged weeds. It quickly descended into a forest of pines and firs.
“That is where the wolf is,” Rudy murmured. “I will stay there until curiosity gets the best of him. He will show himself and I will shoot him.”
“He has consumed the last of my sheep.”
The wind from the valley of trees below blew into Rudy’s face. That was good. If to his back his scent would carry ahead. The wolf would catch the scent and know.
The tracks Rudy followed on the trail abruptly ended.
“He would go up the hill,” Rudy whispered.
Rudy bent over to look for tracks leading up the hill. There were none.
“He weaved through the weeds, clever,” Rudy thought. “Not a stock bent or broken. Where do they learn that?”
Rudy kept his head down and eyes focused for any signs of a wolf’s tracks.
“He’s watching me,” Rudy thought. “Keep my head down. As soon as my head is lifted he will disappear behind the hill. I must make him think he has outsmarted me.”
Without moving his head up Rudy rolled his eyes up. “There you are just over the tip of the hill. I see your eyes and ears.”
Rudy turned back toward the trail. He walked on the trail toward the forest. His steps were slow. His eyes pulled to the left watching his flank.
“Wolf, this is as real as it gets. It is life or death. For you the first time. You may have had to fight other animals but you knew them. Your prey has been sheep, rabbits, or squirrels. Sheep graze unaware of the danger. They are not meant to fight you off. I am no match for you with my hands but I have my rifle. I am more than your equal. My cunning will outdo your instincts.”
Rudy saw the wolf in his peripheral crouching and easing down the hill. Rudy eased off the safety of the rifle. The click almost seemed to echo. He curled his pulsating finger around the trigger.
“He’s not more than 30 yards,” Rudy whispered. “He thinks he is the stalker.”
Rudy had the advantage even though only the perception of being stalked was frightening to him. “I know how a stalked animal must feel.” Rudy thought. “My fear is nearly unbearable. I know how this will end but his blind confidence overshadows the reality. He is so confident all he sees is himself tearing succulent meat from my dead carcass. His vision is so powerful that I see it too. This must come to an end.”
Rudy heard his heart pound. He felt the veins in his neck throb.
Rudy reached and gripped the barrel's stock. He eased the butt to his shoulder. He whirled and took aim at the approaching wolf’s head.
The wolf left its crouching position and backed up a few yards. Three pups stood behind him.
The powerful vision of the wolf over his carcass was replaced with an inner voice, “Take my life but let my pups go.”
Rudy relaxed his finger. He breathed. The rifle fell to his side.
“I can’t kill an animal in front of its young,” Rudy said. “You are safe. Mr. Wolf.”
The wolf crouched and tucked its tail. The pups gathered behind him.
“Let’s make a covenant, Mr. Wolf,” Rudy said. “You know from where I tracked you. You know my sheep. For your life today and the life of your pups, leave my sheep alone.”
The wolf remained motionless. The pups fidgeted playfully as if unaware of the seriousness.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Rudy said. “And furthermore, tell your friends.”
The wolf stood and trotted away with the pups behind him. They reached the top of the hill. The wolf turned to look at Rudy looking at him. With two fingers Rudy offered an informal salute The wolf and its pups disappeared behind the hill.