Subscriptions click here for 20% off! E-Mail:

Git Home!


As her husband swung his rifle in her direction, Diana Sundles threw herself to the ground. His fourth shot finally killed the large grey wolf that was charging at them, dropping the animal just 10 feet from her prone figure.

On July 27, Tim Sundles and his wife Diana went on a pack-trip vacation. They live on Carmen Creek, not far from Salmon, Ida. “We wanted to get away and have a few days together. We have teenagers and a business, and we don’t get much quality time alone. There’s a pretty spot near the Middle Fork of the Salmon River where my wife likes to go—where she killed her first elk. We’ve been going there for many years. It’s remote—about a 16-mile ride in from the trail head. We rode in with our horses and mules and set up camp that evening.”

They woke next morning just before daylight, with a pack of wolves among their horses. “What woke me was their howling, and the horses were having a fit. I ran out with a flashlight and small revolver. I screamed and hollered—shot up in the air a few times and ran the wolves off.”

Tim assumed it was over, that the wolves were afraid of people. So they cooked breakfast, sat around camp for an hour or so, then got their fishing gear ready. “We were going to hike up to one of those remote lakes that doesn’t have a name,” Tim says. “We were going to spend the day up there just fishing and snoozing under the trees, leaving the horses and mules at our camp.”

He turned a couple of head loose to graze and picked up his rifle as they started to walk out of camp, but Tim had an uneasy feeling. “We got about 100 yards out of camp where our two pack animals were grazing and a big grey wolf wassneaking up on them. He was real close, about 15 to 20 feet from them, and they weren’t paying any attention. In the back of my mind was the disquieting thought, ‘Where’s the rest of the pack?’ I had to assume these were the same wolves that were there a couple hours earlier, and there were a bunch of them!”

He fired a shot over the wolf, trying to get it to run off, but it just turned on Tim and Diana. They didn’t know at the time it was the alpha male or that it was radio collared. “When I fired the shot over it, it came straight at me, full speed. I fired two more rounds trying to hit it, but a wolf running at you through the trees is really hard to hit. He got within 10 to 15 feet of me then veered off and circled around me. He turned toward my wife on the trail behind me—and was headed straight for her. I had a perfect broadside shot and was able to get my sight on him. He dropped just about 10 feet from my wife.” To avoid being shot Diana had fallen to the ground, because she realized that when the wolf did a semi-circle around Tim, she was in Tim’s line of fire. “I was swinging the gun muzzle right toward her and when she saw that, she got out of the way,” he says quietly. “If she’d been between me and the wolf, there’s no way I could have shot it.”

When he saw the radio collar and the ear tags, he thought, “This vacation is over!” At first he decided to keep the incident quiet, but then reconsidered. “One of the big lies the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service [FWS] and the environmentalists are telling us is that wolves are not dangerous to humans. The longer I thought about that, the more I thought people have a right to know. If I keep this quiet, someone else might get hurt. The next time, it might be a little kid and then I’m going to feel partly responsible.”

Tim came home from the camping trip and tried to find an attorney familiar with the Endangered Species Act, but couldn’t. He called county commissioners, legislators—a lot of people—but had no luck finding an attorney who could advise him. “I didn’t want to tell my story and end up being prosecuted. I found out there’s a law that says you’ve got to report the shooting of a wolf within 24 hours. It took us 48 hours to get out of the wilderness. So I was already in violation of that law by the time I found out about it, and I didn’t know what to do.”

Because he couldn’t find an attorney he went public, at his own peril. At a mid-August public meeting in Salmon, Ida., Tim Sundles stunned the group with his account of shooting the radio-collared wolf in self defense. He hadn’t planned to speak. He merely wanted to talk with Senator Mike Crapo in private, but halfway through the meeting changed his mind. As one person in the audience recalls, “Sundles was the last speaker. What he told us was so shocking it made everything else insignificant. If he’d spoken earlier on the program, I think it would have ended the meeting right then.” The purpose of the hearing was for input on delisting the thriving population of reintroduced wolves.

TimTim Sundles came forward because the Constitution says he has a right to defend himself, his family and his property. “All three of those things were happening up there, and yet, out of fear of the way the government enforces the Endangered Species Act, I didn’t want to come forward. I finally became ashamed of my own cowardice and decided to tell people—and do it with the senator and the media there so I couldn’t be arrested and privately hung. I wanted publicity,” he explains, “because that was my only protection.”

After telling his story, FWS agents wanted him to show them the wolf to determine whether he actually shot it in self defense. “My attorney told me I didn’t have to, but I took them up there and we showed them the wolf,

Courtesty Saundles Family

where my camp was, and how things happened. They were real pushy and wanted me to take a lie detector test and videotape my testimony but I said no. The Custer County sheriff went up there with me because he didn’t want me to be alone with them. We just showed them everything and left; we walked away when they tried to interrogate me.” The federal agents sent the wolf to a forensics laboratory. “As long as they don’t try to falsify evidence, like they did with Gene Hussey, everything will be fine; the facts will back up my story.”

Within days after the first reintroduced wolves were released near Salmon, one killed a calf belonging to Hussey, an 83-year-old rancher, and was shot by a passerby on the road while the wolf was eating

the calf. An autopsy was done on the wolf and calf by local veterinarian Robert Cope. When federal agents arrived, they took both bodies for their own autopsies—and exchanged a stillborn calf for the one the wolf killed, claiming the wolf had not killed the calf. What they didn’t know was that Cope had a videotape of the original autopsy. “He had indisputable evidence that the calf was live born,” says Tim. “The feds didn’t know about that tape. When they found out, they knew they’d hung themselves; it showed they were not honest,” Tim continues. “So I did a like thing; I made some safety precautions. I don’t think the feds are going to falsify

evidence this time. I think they know they are being watched by our senators and they know I am not going to pay a fine just to make them go away.”

The Sundles don’t have anything against wolves. “He was a big beautiful animal,” Tim says. “The problem I have is the government has turned this wolf into something untouchable and is trying to run our lives and overturn the Constitution with it. The rancher who’s just trying to make a living is now put in the position of being a felon if he shoots one to protect his animals. My wife is hesitant to go in the woods again. If the wolves killed or injured one of our animals, I would have been physically ill over that, because I love my horses. Even if environmentalists could reimburse me for the ‘value’ of the animal, it would never replace that individual.”

Tim Sundles, Jr., 15, and Jacob, 11, headed for the 13 lakes area at the head of the Selway River in the Bitterroot National Forest. Tim carries a rifle, like they all do now. TOP: The Bitterroot Mountains where the Sundles pack in.

Just recently, Tim Sundles and a friend went elk hunting, taking along a guard for their horses and mules. Where there were previously plenty of elk they were now scarce, but wolves were abundant, howling to one another in the night and sighted in packs as large as a dozen.

Heather Smith Thomas is a writer and rancher from Salmon, Ida.

Winter 2002 Contents | Git Home!

To Subscribe: Please click here or call 1-800-RANGE-4-U for a special web price

Copyright © 1998-2005 RANGE magazine

For problems or questions regarding this site, please contact Dolphin Enterprises.

last page update: 04.03.05