Favorite Photo Places: Howl with the Wolves in Montana
By Christine Pentecost—
I’m fortunate to see a lot of wildlife. Living with my husband in the mountains near Bozeman, Montana, close to Yellowstone National Park, we’ve had black bears look into our windows, moose wander through the yard, bobcats and mountain lions meander through our property, and an over abundance of deer visit us, just to name a few. The diversity of wildlife in our area is amazing!
I’m lucky to be able to enjoy visiting the Park year round and one of the most sought after wildlife for most people to see there are the wolves. Wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone in 1995, and as of January 2020, there were estimated to be about 94 wolves making up eight packs. It’s always been a special treat to see a wolf while visiting Yellowstone. However, with that being said, I can only count a handful of times I’ve seen a wolf up close, particularly close enough to photograph.
The first time I ever saw a wolf up close in Yellowstone, I stood with camera in hand, and froze, just enjoying the beauty of this magnificent animal, and not taking one photo. Wolf watching is a huge activity within the Park, where people watch the wolves in the far distance with their spotting scopes. They will often spend countless hours at it. As summer warms up, wildlife, including the wolves, often seek higher elevations.
I am fortunate in that I get to see and hear wolves a bit more often than most people, as Howlers Inn Bed & Breakfast is just down the road from me. Howlers Inn opened in 1995, after the original owner and his wife rescued an abused and injured wolf pup in California. Since keeping a wolf in populated California wasn’t going to work, they found property outside of Bozeman, Montana on which they established a wolf sanctuary in a very natural environment.
Currently there are a total of four wolves there – Koa, a Gray wolf, and Shasta, along with two brothers Tahoe and Chinook, who are Alaskan Tundra wolves. Guests can watch and photograph the wolves while enjoying a cup of coffee on a lovely deck overlooking the enclosure.
There is also a walking trail around the enclosure to see them up close. The wolves love to interact with the guests and will often follow people as they walk the trail. Koa and Shasta especially love to get the extra attention. They are not wary of humans, unlike in the wild, and practically pose for their photos. The wolves will often howl in the early morning or evening hours, and it is truly music to my ears when I hear them. When they are not greeting the guests, they may be surveying their territory, playing and interacting with each other, or napping.
Because the wolves are accustomed to people, they are easy and fun to photograph. While it may be a little challenging to take photos through the chain link fence (see Technical Tip below), the upper deck of the Inn provides a great spot to shoot from. I like to use my Nikon 70-200 lens to capture close ups of the wolves, as well as photos showing them in their natural setting. However, because you are able to get fairly close to the wolves in a very safe environment, most any type of lens and camera will work.
The wolves tend to be most active in the mornings and evenings in the warmer months, which is the best time to take photos. During the winter, they remain a bit more active throughout the day. It’s not unusual to have the wolves get up from their naps when they hear someone drive up to the Inn or when guests walk out on the deck.
Aurelie and Nate Burns, who run the Inn, along with assistance from Nate’s parents, eagerly share their knowledge of the wolves, and can answer any questions guests have about them. Many of the guests talk about how special it is to fall asleep to the sounds of the howling wolves, and then wake up in the morning to enjoy a gourmet breakfast while watching the wolves at play. All the wolves at the Inn were born in captivity, at various locations across the US, and they cannot be returned to the wild, due to the human interaction they received at a young age. Furthermore, Howlers Inn does not breed their wolves.
The Inn is situated on 42 acres about 12 miles from Bozeman, with fabulous views of both the Bridger and Absaroka (pronounced Ab-SOHR-kee) Mountains. It’s a 30 minute ride to the Inn and an hour and a half to Yellowstone. There is always an abundance of activities in the area, from hiking, fishing and rafting in the summer, to skiing, snowmobiling, and ice climbing in the winter. If, by chance, Grizzly Bears appeal to you, the Montana Grizzly Encounter, a grizzly rescue and education facility is just three miles away.
Howlers is located between Bozeman and Livingston, and both towns have an abundance of exceptional restaurants, shopping and art galleries. The natural beauty of the area is a big draw for photographers. If you’ve seen the movie “A River Runs Through It”, parts of it were filmed in the scenic Bozeman area.
Catching an early morning sunrise over the Yellowstone River, or a calm evening on the Gallatin River make for some exceptional eye catching photos! And, with an abundance of public lands, the opportunities for lots of outdoor nature photography is at your fingertips when visiting the area.
While staying at the Inn, many people like to venture out to the various recreational spots in the area. One of my favorite places is the 34,000 acre Hyalite Canyon Recreation area, located about 15 miles south of Bozeman. It is a popular spot for hiking, fishing, canoeing and mountain biking in the summer, and Nordic skiing, ice fishing and ice climbing in the winter. It has a large reservoir with a stunning mountain backdrop, and provides an abundance of photographic opportunities, along with endless hiking trails and waterfalls.
Venturing a bit further out of Bozeman can take you down Paradise Valley, appropriately named, as you travel along the Yellowstone River, to Gardiner, Montana, the original gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Or, you can travel from Bozeman to Big Sky and West Yellowstone, while driving along the beautiful Gallatin River. These are day trips, allowing you plenty of time to explore and photograph the majestic mountains and beautiful rivers before returning to the Inn by nightfall.
While Howlers Inn is fully licensed to house and care for the wolves, they are not open to the public and you must be a registered guest at the Inn to gain access to the wolves
There are so many photographic and recreational opportunities in the Bozeman area, I could never fit them all in the space allowed. But, there are some links below to help you plan your exploration of this beautiful area. If you love wildlife and have never been to this part of the country before, you won’t be disappointed.
When shooting subjects on the other side of a chain link fence, you can get the wire to disappear by moving the camera lens as close in to it as possible so that your lens almost touches it. The wire will be thrown so far out of focus, it will not be seen in the image.
“The paper I use and prefer the most is Red River Ultra Pro Luster 300 for both my landscape and wildlife photos. When I get orders for larger prints, that’s my ‘go to’ paper.” —Christine Pentecost, Red River Pro. Check out Christine’s profile and links to her website.
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