Jason and Sarah Ekin’s 5-year-old son loves to roam around their yard catching butterflies.
In her oversized white sunglasses, their 3-year-old daughter often makes a beeline from the front door to the backyard where the couple’s three hunting dogs lounge.
But the Ekins say they will think twice before letting their kids wander around their home on the edge of Hamilton after last Saturday morning.
The couple was abruptly awakened shortly after 5 a.m. that day when their dogs let out a terrified bark.
“The sound just exploded from our backyard,” Sarah said. “It sounded like they thought their lives were going to come to an end.”
A moment later, they heard one of the dogs begin to yelp.
“I could tell that one of them was being hurt,” Jason said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
They peered out a large window and spotted the shape of a large black dog standing a few yards away from one of the dog houses.
“I told my wife that I thought it was a wolf,” Jason said. “I told her to go get the gun. When I lifted the shade, he started to leave.”
Jason went out onto the second story deck with his rifle. At first, he thought the wolf had left, but minutes later it reappeared and walked to within 12 feet of the dog’s house and stared inside at the 70-pound Walker hound.
“That wolf had to know that I was there, but he just didn’t seem to care,” Jason said. “It looked to me that he had come back to finish the job.”
When the wolf turned broadside to him, Jason shot it.
The wolf flipped over once before falling dead on a patch of grass now stained reddish-brown. It died 34 yards from the couple’s deck.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Lou Royce said the shooting was justified.
“Under state and federal law, he’s covered,” Royce said. “He was defending his dog’s life.”
One dog was bitten during the wolf attack.
“I definitely could see a bite mark on the side of the dog,” Royce said. “It was obviously hurting a bit.”
The wolf weighed 86 pounds. Royce said it was probably less than 2 years old.
FWP wolf biologist Liz Bradley said the wolf may have been a disperser from another pack.
“This kind of thing can happen any time of year,” Bradley said. “Wolves see dogs as competitors. They are very territorial.”
Royce and Bradley agreed that it is unusual for a wolf to show up in such a residential area so close to town.
The Ekins live on North Canyon Drive, which is just west of Hamilton and less than a mile from the city limits.
“I was surprised at how many houses there were right around their house,” Royce said. “I thought maybe they lived in the trees when I got the call. Their dogs were all chained and near their house. I’ve never handled one exactly like this before.”
On Monday, Sarah was scheduled to babysit three other young children at her home.
“I was terrified about that actually,” she said. “Do I even dare to let them go outside? I think we’ll live in fear for a while before we get comfortable again. It’s just not something that we would expect to have happen here.”
Since Saturday, the couple has received a number of phone calls from neighbors who said they had seen the wolf near their own homes. Some called to report they had lost dogs or cats over the past couple of weeks. Others just wanted to thank Jason for killing the animal.
“I didn’t do this because it was something I wanted to do,” he said. “I did it because I had to do it to protect my dogs.”
Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or email@example.com.