Badluck Way, Bryce Andrews’ haunting and elegiac memoir of a year spent ranching in Montana, captures the clash between housing development and wilderness regions occurring all over the American West. Luxury game ranches in Montana owned by Hollywood stars are built along migration routes for elk, antelope and wolves. The ecological relationship between predator and prey is complicated—sometimes to tragic ends—when human beings enter the ancient mix.

As a young and idealistic Seattle kid in love with the land, Andrews gains a tough sentimental education as a novice ranch hand on Sun Ranch. Hard days and nights of fence building and cattle herding weather his body and callous his hands; but worth it’s all worth it, enabling him to live “at the center of my heart’s geography.”

Running parallel to Andrews’ story, however, is the story of the Wedge Wolf Pack, which occupies the backcountry of the ranch, surviving primarily off the abundant elk in the area. The reintroduction of wolves to the American West (after having been previously hunted out of existence) has generated much debate between conservationists and ranchers. Some wolf packs have integrated seamlessly into the wild, keeping down the population of deer. Others, like the Wedge Pack, find the presence of slow moving cows in the wolves’ own hunting grounds an easy meal. Andrews finds himself caught between his affinity for the wilderness and the wolves and his profession as a rancher.

The American conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote about the experience of killing a wolf, of how seeing the “fierce green fire” die out of its eyes led him to rethink his role as a human predator. Similarly, Andrews is bitterly transformed by his first-hand experience seeing that fire die. Now that wolves are no longer an endangered species in Montana and Idaho, permits are being issued for limited wolf hunts to protect ranchers’ herds. But what are the consequences of killing a wolf?

Andrews honors the men, the land and the animals that populate the Sun Ranch by not smoothing over these complex issues. His memoir recounts both the tough questions and the real and raw grief he feels for the dead wolf. Beautifully written and viscerally honest, Badluck Way introduces a powerful new voice in environmental writing.

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