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Sublette County man ropes wolf off of a snowmobile in Wyoming history

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The last time a Sublette County man made headlines for live capturing a wolf with a snowmobile was 27 years ago, under a very different scenario. 

It was two years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park, but the federal lawsuit questioning whether the reintroduction was legal was still pending.

Wolf kills sheep 

One evening in late February 1997, Boulder Rancher Phyllis Mayo called Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Game Warden Dennis Almquist to report a wolf had been killing sheep on the Mayo Ranch. 

The wolf killed seven sheep and wounded another during four consecutive night visits to the ranch.

Almquist, who had received reports of a wolf and wolf tracks in the area just a few days prior, contacted USFWS Special Agent Roy Brown of Lander, and they arranged to meet at the Mayo Ranch the next day to investigate. 

When the wolf returned to the ranch the next morning – Feb. 21, 1997 – Rancher Bill Mayo was ready. With the assistance of a neighbor, Bill roped the wolf from a snowmobile, and they locked the animal in a stock trailer.

Almquist and Brown arrived on the scene that afternoon, while ranch residents were not at home. 

Investigators found and measured “very large canine tracks” and looked at the sheep kills. Almquist said the investigators felt “a big dog or a small wolf” could have left the evidence on the scene. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control Supervisor Merrill Nelson arrived on scene and followed the tracks for some distance when Bill returned home to tell investigators he captured the animal and it was locked in the trailer. 

Bill explained he was tired of his sheep being killed and had waited for the animal to return to the flock to capture it. Bill told Almquist he “didn’t want to kill it, but he wanted it out of there.” 

Almquist then radioed WGFD Warden Duke Early and requested he bring immobilization drugs and equipment to the Mayo Ranch. Almquist administered an injection to the wolf as she cowered in the corner of the trailer, and the Mayos provided medicine and bandages for officials to treat a minor wound on the wolf’s leg.

Brown took possession of the animal and transported her to a secure location, reporting  “the animal is alive and well. He didn’t attempt to kill it. Under the regulations, he can harass it all he wants to, as long as he doesn’t kill it or inflict any permanent injuries.” 

Before USFWS wolf staff examined the wolf, USFWS Wolf Biologist Ed Bangs said the animal was not one of the released Canadian wolves or one of their offspring and indicated she was probably a hybrid or a transient animal. Later, genetic testing confirmed she was not related to any of the reintroduced wolves.

Origin of the wolf 

This Boulder wolf was one of three wolves confirmed to be roaming the wilds of Western Wyoming for which USFWS couldn’t account for their origin – at a time when the legality of the wolf reintroduction hinged on Wyoming not already having a wolf population. 

The other wolves were confirmed outside of Dubois and Cody.

The prospect of a criminal prosecution hung over Bill for his actions, and he explained himself in a letter to Bangs, writing, “One of the sheep which was killed was a bum lamb which was nursed back to life in a box in our house for its first week of life. This process involves feeding every two hours – including all night.” 

“This lamb was bottle-fed until weaning,” Bill continued in his letter. “In her adult life, she always would call to me as I headed across the field with a horse, and she always had her head in the grain bucket as I fed corn daily. She was a pet. Another ewe that was bitten, even though she was in the barn and medicated with antibiotics and topical medications, lived in pain and suffering for four days before she died.” 

“We did everything in our power to do things right,” he concluded. 

Bill’s assertion was reinforced by a restricted internal USFWS law enforcement memo which stated Bill’s action “seems to confirm his intent to put an end to his livestock losses, while saving the wolf. His actions averted what could have been the immediate death of the wolf and allowed service biologists to observe the wolf firsthand, to determine the origin of the animal.” 

Bangs cited numerous reasons for doubting she was a wild wolf, including overall appearance, hair banding and hair shedding patterns and the fact it was found farther south than any monitored wolf of which USFWS was aware.

Bangs also noted, “Its behavior while in captivity was different than observed in other wild wolves.” 

The atypical wolf behavior to which Bangs alluded included avoiding people while in a small kennel and snapping as a muzzle was removed. 

Bangs concluded, “While, individually, these conditions do not rule out the possibility of it being a wolf, together they overwhelmingly indicate the animal is not part of the reintroduction and recovery program in the Western U.S. and in all likelihood is a wolf-dog hybrid released from captivity by unknown persons.” 

As a last possibility, Bangs suggested “it is a member of a remnant wolf population that survived in the Yellowstone area since the 1930s,” but made clear he did not believe this to be the case.

After a few months of the female wolf living in a holding pen in Yellowstone, Bangs eventually directed the wolf live captured by Bill be permanently placed in captivity. That fall, she was transported to a captive facility in Texas, where she died a few months later. 

Cat Urbigkit is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments to

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