I felt extra special there in elementary school at Goldonna. My dad had the coolest job in the world and it made me one of the most popular kids in the sixth grade to tell my buddies gathered around all big eyed about my dad’s latest adventure.
My dad, T. E. “Doc” Harris, worked in predator control for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He was a “wolf trapper”.
It was especially neat when my brother, Tom, and I got to go along with him to run his traps and see what had been caught. Sometimes it was a possum; sometimes a coon; sometimes a skunk; sometimes a fox or bobcat but the real thrill came when we found the trap gone with a wolf track next to it.
When he set his traps – he used heavy-duty #4 Newhouse – he didn’t stake them down. Instead, he attached and buried a chain of about 8 feet in length to which he had attached what he called a “drag hook”, a two-pronged hook with one side pointing up and the other down. This enabled the trapped animal to take off dragging the chain and hook behind rather than jerking a foot out or losing a toe in the staked-down trap.
The trail left as the wolf took off with the trap dragging the hook behind was easy to follow. Usually, the animal would be found tangled up in a nearby thicket.
Finding a red wolf in a trap was especially exciting because of our exposure to these creatures on warm summer nights when dad would take us to a pipeline or power line somewhere over in Winn Parish to make them howl. He would let loose with a long mournful howl and if wolves were within earshot, they’d answer and I still get chills in thinking about those hauntingly deep-throated howls.
Dad taught me to howl and once when Tom and I accompanied him on a week-long trapping venture to Madison parish, I got to put my new-found howling skills to the test.
Dad had located a wolf den deep in the swamp and he and the caretaker of the hunting lodge where we stayed that week, a wiry little fellow named Drew Denton, came up with a plan. Dad would park his Jeep a couple hundred yards or so from the den’s location, he’d leave Tom and me at the Jeep while he and Drew would take shotguns and sneak half-way between the Jeep and the den. The plan was to waylay the wolves as they came in response to my howling. He left me his watch and told me to begin howling twenty minutes after they departed.
The plan worked to perfection. As soon as twenty minutes had passed, I tilted my head back, cupped my hands around my mouth and let out a howl that must have sounded sweet to the wolves at the den. They immediately answered and then all was quiet. I waited to hear the blast of a shotgun and when no shots were heard, I decided to howl again. Something unplanned happened because instead of hearing shotguns blasting, I heard wolves howling 50 yards away as they had skirted dad and Drew and they were closing fast. In a matter of seconds, here came three loping wolves toward where two scared little boys were sitting on the hood of the Jeep.
Tom remembered dad’s pistol he kept under the seat, grabbed it and fired a shot, not trying to hit one but to let them know they needed to skee-daddle, which thankfully, they did in a hurry.
Memories of my dad and his association with red wolves have become just that, distant memories. Red wolves are no longer running wild in Louisiana, having been hybridized out of existence with the burgeoning population of coyotes. Only a few captive pure blood red wolves remain in a protected area in North Carolina. Eventually, the expense and sagging interest to try and save the few remaining will fade like the last mournful note of the howl I heard as a boy on a summer night in Winn Parish.