Wolverines are so rare and elusive, even many people who spend countless hours in Wyoming’s vast outdoors never get to see one in the wild.
Backcountry skier Nick Gaddy is so lucky he’s actually seen two — one in Montana in 2020, and another one on Monday in Wyoming. And he was able to snag video of his Monday encounter as the critter took off across the snowy landscape.
“I know people who are wildlife biologists who study wolverines but have never actually seen one,” Gaddy told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
And that’s no exaggeration.
Zack Walker, the non-game wildlife supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, recently told Cowboy State Daily that he estimates there might be only 15 or so wolverines in Wyoming, and he’s yet to see one in the wild.
On Monday, Gaddy caught video of a wolverine ripping across an alpine snowfield at seemingly impossible speed on the Wyoming side of the state line near Cooke City, Montana.
Wolverines are much more nimble than people give them credit for, he said.
“One of the main characteristics of the animal I noticed in both of my wolverine encounters is how amazingly fast they are,” Gaddy said.
First Encounter In 2020
Gaddy lives in Red Lodge, Montana, and frequently visits Cooke City. He loves to explore the wild country on both sides of the Wyoming-Montana State line, and has seen his share of wild critters.
He was sure he had one-in-a-lifetime good fortune after he caught a brief look at a wolverine while backcountry skiing with his girlfriend in Montana’s Beartooth Mountains during winter 2020.
They had just finished making their way down a chute when they heard a noise nearby.
“While we were standing there, we heard a rock fall, and I started looking for a mountain goat,” he said. “I just assumed there was a mountain goat running around.”
Instead, they saw a wolverine run out of some cover and appear briefly in an open spot before running back into the cover. The incident lasted only a few seconds, and Gaddy didn’t have time to retrieve his cellphone and try capturing a photo or video.
As he was skiing in for a little adventure on the Wyoming side Monday, he said he noticed a “musky smell.” He figured there was some sort of wild animal nearby but didn’t venture a guess as to what it was.
On his way back out, he was coming down a high mountain slope, right near the tree line.
“I turned to the right, and I saw some movement, maybe 50-75 feet away,” he said.
He instantly recognized the burly creature as a wolverine, and for a moment was simply stunned by the unbelievable luck of a second encounter.
“I kind of had this moment when I stood there, jaw on the ground. And then I realized I had time to get to my phone,” Gaddy said.
He captured a clear shot of the wolverine tearing across the snow away from him, running effortlessly across the hardened snow.
In the video, Gaddy can be heard excitedly calling out “the gulo!”
“Gulo” is derived from French or Spanish term for “glutton,” he explained.
“That’s what some people call the wolverine, the ‘glutton,’” Gaddy said.
Right Place, Right Time
After the speedy wolverine disappeared from sight, Gaddy finished skiing down the slope. At the bottom, he turned back and got another glimpse of the creature, this time from long distance.
“We just kind of looked at each other for a while, and then he was gone,” he said.
On his way back out, Gaddy ran into a couple of other skiers and showed them the video.
“The were absolutely amazed,” he said.
He also noticed wolverine tracks following the ski tracks from his journey in. He figured that explained the musky smell he’d caught earlier that day.
“It’s pretty clear that he had come up behind me and just followed the track,” Gaddy said.
He appreciates the sheer odds of getting to see not one, but two wolverines in the wild.
“I guess it’s just a matter of being at the right place at the right time,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.