TENDUA - Association for biodiversity conservation

Unforgettable encounters...

France - Vercors

What if this year we changed our plans?
Instead of going to track Lynx in the Jura Mountains, why not try to find traces of evidence of Wolves in the Vercors?
A few months earlier, an interesting discussion at the festival of photography in Montier-en-Der had prompted me to try, with my friends Anne and Bruno, something different from other Spring-time quests...

So, then I left at the end of March 2009 for a four-day adventure in the Vercors, an area I had not visited before, with my friends joining me for the last two days of my stay.

Arriving at the Auberge du Pionnier, owned by Rémy Pozzi (naturalist guide and photographer), I was immediately charmed by the wilderness of this place, at the edge of a forest and steep cliff, miles away from any other houses.

Upon arrival, the conditions promised to be ideal. A layer of recent snow would favour tracking, there were many deer in the meadows and the snow was melting. It was reported that a deer had been killed 15 days earlier, most probably by a group of several wolves...

I spent the two first days alone, exploring different areas, trying to find interesting clues and hiding out at the edge of the forest. The results were already promising, since prints of a large lone canid were spotted on a snowy track and numerous observations and photos taken of local wildlife (red deer, roe deer, foxes and so on).


On March 19...

On the third day, my friends joined me and we then continued the search together. We explored a very isolated area where we found, in the slush, tracks in a straight line of a large canid, and a few meters away, faeces with containing a lot of hair. The probability of being in the presence of a wolf seemed to us to be very high...


“A red deer carcass, freshly killed…”
“A red deer carcass, freshly killed…”
© O. Güder

After a few minutes of hesitation, we decided to seize this exceptional opportunity and install a lookout in case...
We looked for an alignment in the trees, which would allow us to observe the deer’s carcass some 80 metres away, with the wind in our face. We quickly gathered a lot of dead branches, so as to conceal ourselves the best way we could.
But with such bitter cold temperatures, it is essential that we equipped ourselves with enough protection if we are to remain immobile for several hours in the snow...

Fortunately, we made the discovery at the beginning of the afternoon, so we had time to go quickly back to the hostel to equip ourselves to be as warm as possible (I put on six layers...!).
Then two hours later, we returned to the hide out, not without having largely bypassed the deer to ensure we left no smell near it.

Just before 18:00, the long wait begins...
After 40 minutes, a fox comes by. He waits a long time before approaching the deer, probably worried about the smell left by the wolves, and finally enjoys the fresh meat for about fifteen minutes. Then he departs, and the wait continues...

Soon we reach the end on the day, and daylight gradually diminishes. Fortunately the sky was clear, and the snow allows some visibility to be maintained in the undergrowth.
It is almost 20:00, and we begin to wonder after waiting already for two hours, visibility is limited, and despite our equipment the cold is beginning to bite us...

Suddenly a movement ... In our binoculars appeared one, then two, then three large figures from amongst the trees, standing out clearly against the snow ... Wolves! They are here!

We see their silhouettes turning towards the deer, moving with stealth through the trees and gradually approaching their meal. That’s it, they are at the carcass! Quickly enough they take the deer a few feet away and put it out of our sight, but we hear distinctly in the night the unceremoniously shredding of bones.

They are there for about fifteen minutes, but now it is completely dark and we cannot see them anymore. We continue to listen and hear the sound of their feast...
We decide then to leave as discreetly as possible, making a wide detour through the forest to try and not disturb them.

We remain silent during our walk until we arrive at the track again several hundred meters away, and then, being sure we are far enough away we finally express our emotions in hushed voices... What incredible luck we have had, to observe wild wolves in France!
For me, who has often read the fascinating stories of Robert Hainard, I would have thought that I was in one of his stories, when suddenly after hours or days of waiting...

We reach the inn, where we discreetly mention our fantastic encounter. We decide with Remy to keep our observations confidential, especially concerning the location, because unfortunately the wolf has not only friends...
Then, we decide to return there the next day at dawn...


On March 20 at dawn..

Long before sunrise, we are equipped and have left the Hostel again. By the time we get there, the first light of the day is upon us, and we slowly approach the fateful place. Upon arriving, we see a fox nearby the prey. If the fox is there, the wolves are no longer around! But soon the fox goes away...
Unable to return discreetly to yesterdays hide, as the frozen snow crunches under our feet, we decide to crouch behind the fir trees near the forest track, and to wait a while, just in case....

I watch the track, and my friends are watching the remains of the deer which are about sixty metres away. The sun is rising, and I prepared my camera with a monopod firmly fixed on the roots of the tree. We do not believe we have much chance today, but after all, what do we risk?


“Straight away a wolf appears…”
“Straight away a wolf appears…”
© O. Güder

After 10 minutes, a movement on the edge of the track at about 70 metres away attracted my attention ... Immediately a wolf appears, and slowly crosses the trail, sniffing for scents... I manage to take 3 or 4 photos during this brief passage. The cameras’ noise alerts Anne and Bruno who did not see anything and look at me, questioning. I whisper to them, with great excitement - a wolf...!!


“He stops on the edge of the track…”
“He stops on the edge of the track…”
© O. Güder

Meanwhile, the wolf goes down into a small hollow in which he can be seen in the distance, sneaking through the trees, heading toward the remains of the deer. I reinstall my camera at a different angle behind my tree, to find an alignment that allows me to see some of the prey, convinced that the wolf is going directly there.
But he hesitates and turns, and finally heads back to the edge of the track a little closer to us ... I have to change position as gently as possible and redirect my camera. The wolf is going to appear, I know he is coming, and then, there he is, he stops at the edge of the track, perfectly clear, 50 metres from us!


“He goes running and disappears…”
“He goes running and disappears…”
© O. Güder

At that moment, my monopod, which I moved, is suddenly sinking in the snow ... Disaster, no more support! The wolf is there, visible, immobile and curious...
Finally I manage to find support and trigger 3 times. The wolf is alerted, and after a few seconds he turns around and runs away.
I am preparing to see him back across the track, which he did almost immediately, and I manage to photograph him again when he runs and disappears into the snowy forest...

Once again, we do not believe in the luck we have had..! To observe at dawn a wolf for a few minutes, and finish with this face-to-face meeting, which probably lasted about twenty seconds...
What an emotion, what an encounter, what an observation, that added to those of the night before!
With the pictures as a bonus, even if they are not of the highest quality, they will leave a beautiful testimony of these exceptional and unforgettable encounters!

Oliver Güder
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