Colorado rancher says wolves have started attacking, killing his cattle again

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Wolves are believed to have killed at least one calf and caused the death of another in Colorado’s Jackson County in recent days, despite a night watcher looking over the herd.

Rancher Don Gittleson, who had already lost three animals to the pack, told the Coloradoan about the most recent attack.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said in an email Friday that two calves died at the ranch in the past month but there wasn’t evidence to confirm that wolves were to blame, such as bite marks.

The pack, which consists of eight grown wolves and includes a female that is suspected to have given birth to her second litter northeast of Walden, has been present on and around the ranch. The wolves had not attacked the Gittlesons’ cattle since the family lost one calf and two pregnant cows to the wolfpack in December and January. One of the cows and a calf were killed by the wolves. The other cow was injured so badly Gittleson had to shoot her.

Volunteers have been helping the Gittlesons with night watch over their registered Angus herd since those deaths, which were all late at night.

“Not exactly sure what happened but I suspect they got ahold of the calf and drug it through the fence because there were marks and the mother went across the fence and chased after them,” Don said of the first attack. “Nobody realized they had come in there that night.”

He said the wolves were back the next night when his wife, Kim, was on night watch. She heard the wolves and shot into the air to chase them off but the wolves returned again the following night.

He said the wolves got into his calving pasture between lights meant to scare them off.  

“They got ahold of (another) calf, and the cow was after the wolves when I drove over to them and honked the horn and they chased off,” he said. They still haven’t found that calf.

He suspects a third calf he lost died from lung damage caused by being chased by the wolves.

Andrea Gittleson and her father-in-law, Don Gittleson, lift a calf onto a scale for at the Gittleson Angus ranch on April 20.

He said Colorado Parks and Wildlife came out to investigate the first calf’s death.

In addition to the December and January attacks at the Gittlesons’ ranch, the agency confirmed the pack also injured a cow badly enough on the State Line Ranch in mid-March that it had to be euthanized. The State Line Ranch is about 10 miles from the Gittleson ranch.

The pack also has killed a working cattle dog in the area northeast of Walden.

The Gittlesons are in the midst of their monthlong calving season. Don said they have had around 100 calves born with another 80 calves expected over the next few weeks.

Wolves usually have their litter around mid-April, and pups begin to emerge from the den around late May.

“I get a few hours of sleep throughout the day, but right now I’m out there every night,” Don said. “Yeah, it’s a bit frustrating.”

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Rancher witnesses wolves kill elk

Ben Zak, a ranch hand at State Line Ranch, said he saw firsthand Easter morning the killing power of the wolf pack.

He said he was inside his house at 6 a.m. April 17 getting ready to head out to check cattle when he saw out of the coroner of his eye a herd of elk running through the ranch yard, which he said was a rare sight. 

Then he looked across the road and saw the reason for the fleeing elk, which he estimated numbered about 100.  

“It was insane, ” he said. “The elk were frantically running everywhere, and when I looked closer I saw wolves chasing them about 200 yards from our house. We witnessed the wolves attack one elk and get it down, and then we heard elk screaming and one standing not too far from the highway with its guts hanging out.”

Don Gittleson fends off a heifer as his son, Dave Gittleson, and Dave's wife, Andrea Gittleson, quickly weigh, vaccinate and apply an ear tag to a calf at the Gittleson Angus ranch on April 20.

Zak said they yelled at the wolves, which reluctantly trotted off from the two elk they killed.

He said he told his wife, Pam, that they just saw history taking place. He said he is not against wolves on the landscape but he believes they need to be managed.

“How many people actually say they saw something like this happen from their front door?” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff in 30 years on ranches, 22 here, but this was mass hysteria. They had no problem getting those elk down.”

State Line Ranch has also lost a cow to the wolves. Colorado Parks and Wildlife confirmed in March that wolves were responsible for injuring a 9-year-old, 1,200-pound cow so badly it had to be euthanized on the ranch in far northeast Jackson County.

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Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at milesblumhardt@coloradoan.com or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.