In this gripping memoir of a young man, a wolf, their parallel lives and ultimate collision, Bryce Andrews describes life on the remote, windswept Sun Ranch in southwest Montana. The Sun’s twenty thousand acres of rangeland occupy a still-wild corner of southwest Montana—a high valley surrounded by mountain ranges and steep creeks with portentous names like Grizzly, Dead Man, and Bad Luck. Just over the border from Yellowstone National Park, the Sun holds giant herds of cattle and elk amid many predators—bears, mountain lions, and wolves. In lyrical, haunting language, Andrews recounts marathon days and nights of building fences, riding, roping, and otherwise learning the hard business of caring for cattle, an initiation that changes him from an idealistic city kid into a skilled ranch hand. But when wolves suddenly begin killing the ranch’s cattle, Andrews has to shoulder a rifle, chase the pack, and do what he’d hoped he would never have to do.
Badluck Way is about transformation and complications, about living with dirty hands every day. It is about the hard choices that wake us at night and take a lifetime to reconcile. Above all, Badluck Way celebrates the breathtaking beauty of wilderness and the satisfaction of hard work on some of the harshest, most beautiful land in the world. Called “an important meditation on what it means to share space and breathe the same air as truly wild animals” (Tom Groneberg, author of The Secret Life of Cowboys), Badluck Way is the memorable story of one young man’s rebirth in the crucible of the West’s timeless landscape, a place at the center of the heart’s geography, savage and gorgeous in equal measure.
Badluck Way is both beautifully written and thought-provoking. The Sun Ranch focused on conservation ranching, so my ag-loving heart was drawn in by their wildlife-friendly, sustainable practices. It cheered my hear to read of such a ranch working so hard to balance profitability with regenerative agriculture. It was my dream written out in beautiful, evocative prose, and I ate it up.
And then the wolves came. Andrews did an excellent job of avoiding both romanticizing and vilifying the wolves. They are just animals, neither inherently moral nor inherently evil. And when the wolves start preying on the cattle, Andrews does a great job presenting the dilemma and ethics of killing an apex predator to protect a livelihood that many good people rely on. It’s a very thoughtful, balanced view of the controversy, and one that every rancher and conservationist should consider. In an interview, the author said he hopes “that people will understand that this is a book containing great sympathies, both for the wolf and for the rancher.”
The last 1/4 of the book did drag on a bit for me and I found myself zoning out a lot (I listened to the audio version), but otherwise, it was a good read.