When a wolf swam after a mighty buck in the depths of a northern Alberta lake, David Smith was there to capture the rare sight, frame by frame.

"The stag jumped out of the bush and the wolf jumped right in after it and tried to swim and bite it," Smith said. "This probably went on for a minute and then the wolf turned around.

"He probably realized it wasn't going to have too much of an opportunity to kill this animal in the middle of the lake."

Smith, an amateur photographer from Sherwood Park, was camping and canoeing with friends on Kinnaird Lake on Saturday when he spotted the unusual struggle.

The area is remote, inaccessible by road. Smith and his friends spend hours every summer portaging to their favourite spot in the Lakeland provincial recreation area southeast of Lac La Biche. 

Smith had no idea the area was so thick with wolves.

'Unlikely behaviour for a wolf'

Smith and his fellow campers were woken up early Saturday by the calls of a wolf pack in the distance.

While they were enjoying an early breakfast, they heard a commotion and spotted something on the move about 15 metres from the water's edge.

"We heard these two big sloshes in the water in the peninsula area in front of us," said Smith, who photographs with ILEP Photography. "We thought it was two deer, because we saw the stag, at first, jump in the water.

"So I picked up my camera and zoomed right in and I'm like, 'That's a wolf behind that deer, that's not another deer.'"

The wolf swam hard to overcome its prey in the water. After taking a few chomps at the buck's haunches, it turned around and swam back to shore.

The buck, apparently unharmed, swam to safety on the opposite side of the peninsula.

"It looks like the wolf tried to get to the back of the deer and take a bite on the butt," Smith said.

"I don't know whether the deer kicked the wolf in trying to get away, or if the wolf just realized that, 'Hey, I can't eat this, and I can't drag it back to shore.'"

'Very lucky indeed'

Biologists have told Smith that the wolf was likely an immature male and an unskilled hunter.

"He probably wasn't smart enough to realize that he couldn't do that," Smith said. "It's very unlikely behaviour for a wolf to try to do that, let alone swim to try and get a kill.

"I mean, if he killed it in the water, what would he do?"

The moment was one to remember for Smith, who moved to Canada from the United Kingdom nine years ago. He's more accustomed to shooting landscapes.

"I have seen some deer in the wild, but never seen any wolves in the wild, so it's a first for me," he said.

"I was very lucky — very lucky indeed — to get some shots like that. I'm pretty proud of them."

David Smith/ILEP Photography

(David Smith/ILEP Photography)