Robert Millage Interview
Hunting guide Robert Millage is credited with shooting the first wolf on opening day of the first official wolf hunt in Idaho. Interestingly, we conducted an interview with him a month before the hunt, then went back after his successful hunt and talked with him again. This is from that second interview.
Why did you decide to hunt a wolf?
I kind of see it as a duty as a hunter in this area to help with predator management and control. Fish and Game biologists have certain numbers that they want taken out each year that benefit the elk and other animals out there and to keep the predators healthy. You’d rather have healthy predators, maybe less of them than more predators that are starving.
Why is there a problem with wolves in the Lolo zone where you hunt?
The problem with the wolves and elk in this area is it's hard for the elk to escape the wolves in the deep snow. It's not a natural area where the elk were plentiful back when there were wolves in this area. So by reintroducing the wolves, they've gone on a little bit of a killing rampage during the winter time.Even the healthy elk can't escape the wolves in chest deep snow. The wolves run on top of the snow. The elk are stuck where they stand. It's pretty easy for them to wipe out whole herds. And I've seen it with my own eyes, multiple elk dead in one spot and not much ate off any of them. The wolves were brought in from Canada and that's what they're built to do, run down caribou and animals out in the deep snow.
You’d rather have healthy predators, maybe less of them than more predators that are starving.
Walk us through what you did to be successful on opening day of the wolf hunt.
The night before, I was waiting on the judge in Montana to see if the hunt was going to go forward. Then I headed up in the hills to set up a camp. Figured I’d hunt the wolves, kind of like you do elk, and check in the different drainages around dark and do some calling, see if I can hear something howling back at me.I heard some wolves howling, down in the drainage, so I went back down the road a little ways and set up a camp. I came back in really early the next morning a couple hours before daylight. The wolves were still howling down in there, so I walked down in a little ways, found a good spot with an opening around me, set up and waited for daylight to roll around. I started doing some predator calling. It took about 20 minutes or so and the wolf came out of the timber below me on a rock slide, about 30 yards or so. And I managed to get a shot on her before she got across there.
What kind of predator call did you use?
I decided maybe a coyote in distress would be my best bet because I know how much they like picking on coyotes and other dogs, and it seemed to work pretty good.Basically sounds like a dog with its tail caught in a car door. I made it sound as injured as possible, like something was attacking it, or maybe another wolf attacking a coyote, so they could join in on it.
Most predators are opportunistic. They think they got an easy meal, when they hear an injured animal, they come into it to investigate and see what’s going on and see about getting an easy meal. It had kind of gotten silent a little bit so I worried I’d scared them off. I caught motion out of my eye across the rock slide coming out of the timber and looked down and saw the wolf come out and kind of instinctively raised my rifle up and got it in the scope, and when I had it in the scope, it lifted its nose and kind of winded the air, and I think it smelled me and turned to take off, and I made my shot then. It wasn’t the biggest wolf I’ve seen, but I could tell it was full grown, and it looked pretty big to me, 80 to 100 pounds.
Most predators are opportunistic. They think they got an easy meal when they hear an injured animal.
Shooting the first wolf must have brought some interesting responses from folks.
My life turned to chaos for a couple weeks. I knew it would be a little bit of a big deal getting a wolf opening day, but I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself into. It was almost like there were groups out there prepared and waiting to start calling the first person that shot the first wolf, because it was almost instantaneous.
My response is, you can’t make everyone happy. The people in my community, the people I’m around, my family, they’re all proud of me. They respect what I did. The Native American community, they’re all supportive and that was one of my main worries, because they were one of the big proponents for bringing the wolves back. But they’re like us, they want game agencies to manage their population for the benefit not only of the wolf, but the elk and the deer who share the forest with them.
But it's not just the negative calls and emails I've gotten. The support has been nice, too. I've had ranchers, farmers, other hunters from Wyoming, Montana, Idaho call up to tell me thanks, tell me they have my back. They gave me their support. wasn’t just negative. For a stranger to call up and yell profanities at you is one thing, but for a total stranger to call up and tell you they support you and have your back is way more profound in my book than the opposite side of it.