'I was in trouble': Beer can and bears save mushroom picker from hungry wolf

Joanne Barnaby was stalked by a wolf for 12 hours while she was mushroom picking near Fort Smith, N.W.T. She dealt with dehydration, mosquitoes, and bears — which she used to lead the wolf into a trap.

Joanne Barnaby was stalked by a wolf for 12 hours, eventually leading the animal into a trap

Joanne Barnaby, left, when she was reunited with her friend Tammy Cauldron. Barnaby was stalked in the bush for 12 hours by a wolf. (Submitted by Joanne Barnaby)

What's the best way to fend off a wolf that's stalking you? Bait it with a bear cub, of course.

It sounds incredible, but that's exactly what Joanne Barnaby did when she got into a terrifying situation while out picking morel mushrooms near Fort Smith, N.W.T., last Friday.

Barnaby and her friend Tammy Caudron headed out to an area burned by wildfires to spend an hour or two searching for the elusive morels. They soon became separated, leaving Barnaby alone with her loyal dog, Joey.

Once her pail was full of mushrooms, she turned to head back toward her truck.

Joanne Barnaby was mushroom picking when she got separated from her friend near Fort Smith, N.W.T. (CBC)

"I heard this growl behind me. There was a long, tall, very, very skinny wolf. A black wolf. And his legs were spread and his hair was standing, and he was growling, and baring his teeth."

Joey charged the animal, but the wolf stood its ground.

"I don't think Joey expected that," Barnaby says. "I didn't want him hurt, of course, but I also knew that if the wolf got Joey, I'd be next."

'Trying to wear me down'

The wolf started pacing back and forth in the direction of the truck. Barnaby says it was forcing her to go farther east, away from the highway.

"It took me a while to realize that he knew what he was doing. He was trying to wear me down. He was trying to separate Joey and I," she says.

"I think he was weak. He didn't look healthy. He looked old to me ... I don't think he wanted to take us both on."

What followed was a 12-hour hunt. The wolf continued to pursue Barnaby and Joey, as they were pushed farther from her truck.

I started praying to not let the mosquitos drive me insane.- Joanne Barnaby

"He was dogged. He was just determined," Barnaby says. "I was in trouble."

Barnaby said she became dehydrated, her calves and thighs were aching, and there was another vicious attacker that was testing her mental strength.

"I was going crazy with mosquitoes. There were zillions of mosquitoes."

Dangerous plan pays off

At about 4:30 a.m., Barnaby heard a loud noise. She quickly recognized it as a mother bear. Listening closely, trying to drown out the buzz of mosquitoes, sure enough she heard a cub respond from far away in the distance. The two bears had been separated.

"I realized that there was a chance that the mother bear would tackle the wolf if she felt that the wolf was a threat," Barnaby explains.

"So I made the choice of walking towards the cub."

It worked. After walking about 20 minutes, Barnaby's dangerous plan paid off.

"I heard this big crashing behind me and realized that the mama bear had attacked the wolf, or maybe the other way around, I don't know, but they were fighting and I could hear the wolf yelping and I could hear the mama bear growling and I could hear all this crashing and I just took off!"

Decision to live

Finally free of the wolf, Barnaby and Joey both "perked right up" when they saw a lake.

"I had brought one can of beer with me. Silly choice," she laughs. "That little can of beer ended up saving my life."

She drank can after can of water and finally took a break.

This one was a decision to live and it was really powerful.- Joanne Barnaby

"I started praying to not let the mosquitos drive me insane. Then I just started talking to people I love, some of whom are still with us, some of whom have passed.

"As I talked to them and told them how much I loved them," Barnaby said, her voice breaking, "everything they mean to me, it energized me, and I was determined to see everybody again.

"All night I had been making decisions of sorts, but this one was a decision to live and it was really powerful."

Lessons learned

When the pair finally climbed onto the highway Saturday morning, Barnaby saw vehicles parked on the road about a kilometre away.

"I was like, 'OK, we're good. We're really good.'"

A police truck, carrying a local RCMP officer and a Parks Canada worker, drove to Barnaby and Joey.

"They both jumped out of the truck and we had big hugs, and of course they were full of questions, but they didn't have any bug spray for me! I couldn't believe it!" she laughs.

Barnaby is still kicking herself for not bringing her gun into the bush, calling it a "huge mistake."

"Don't do what I did. Don't go without your gun," she says. "Anything can happen.

"If I had had that gun, it would've been a very short situation."

With files from Loren McGinnis.