The transmitters that were implanted in the pups are by no means designed for ground tracking! The main point of them is to be able to locate the pups from the air and determine if a pup is alive or dead. Then if, and only if, a pup is dead, does a crew go in on foot with telemetry gear to track it. However, this was not the case. Everyday, myself and another one of my fellow techs went out to listen for signals for both packs. We usually end up in some random remote area well away from a road or trail.
The key is to find high ground in order to expand the range of the radio signal from the receiver. Much bush-whacking and hiking up and down ridges, through dense swamps, is generally expected. The pups’ signals are so sensitive that being tucked under rocks, behind a tree or sibling, and windy conditions can effect the quality of the signals. The best days are when we are able to just go to a point, listen and leave. The reality is that these good days never last. As the pups get older and more mobile, rendezvous sites are moved to some new or far away location, meaning we have to find them. If the collared adult is around, triangulation on its location is the best option. From there, we may be able to determine where pups are based on the movement patterns. If no collared adult is around, the best option is to visit previous points that they were at, hoping that an area is being reused. Otherwise, after those options are exhausted, Mike goes up in the plane and locates them, giving us more of an idea of where to start.
Tracking these pups on a daily basis reinforced knowledge of using a topography map, compass, and GPS. Without these tools, and the ability to understand them, we would be lost. Depending on where a pack is at, trying to relocate the pups ends up turning into a bit of an adventure. It uses up hours of the day tromping through pure wilderness.
Often, the search for pup signals led us through thick, swampy vegetation, a perfect environment to hide and raise your kids if you’re a wolf. In this habitat, is where Nature will present someone with a beautiful surprise, such as “pink lady’s slippers”. These large, orchids are the size of a person’s fist and completely prefer to grow in extreme PH environments. Seeing wonders like these rare orchids ends up being a great way to end even the most tedious excursion to find signals.