A sheep rancher shot and killed a wolf just northwest of Hamilton early Monday after finding the predator eating a lamb within 300 yards of the family's home.

Julie Schram said her husband spotted what he thought to be a coyote when he put the dogs out of their home just off Mill Creek Road at about 6:30 a.m.

"He grabbed his rifle and walked around the barn," she said. "That's where he spotted the wolf laying down and eating the lamb."

Thinking initially the animal was a coyote, he shot it.

"When it jumped up, he could see it was a wolf," Schram said. "It didn't go very far before it fell down and died."

The wolf was an 80-pound gray female.

The shooting was investigated by a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks warden.

"Everything seemed legit," said FWP regional supervisor Mack Long. "It was a case of a rancher defending his livestock. He was used to having coyotes coming in. In this case it was a wolf."

"I'm not sure what else he could have done," Long said.

Regionally, Long said this spring and summer haven't been "exceptionally bad" for wolf and livestock conflicts.

The Bitterroot Valley has been the exception.

In May, two different wolf packs killed a horse and a calf just south of Darby. A total of six wolves from the Trapper Creek and Divide Creek packs were killed in response to the depredations.

In the same month, a Hamilton man shot and killed a wolf that was attacking his dogs from his back porch.

"Given the number of wolves on the landscape, there are going to be some conflicts. A good share of the conflicts that we have had this year have been in the Bitterroot," Long said.

As the crow flies, Schram said her family's home is about three miles outside of Hamilton.

While this is the first time they have encountered wolves at their home, Schram said they have seen the Mill Creek Pack several times over the past five years.

"We don't take our dogs up there any more," she said.

Schram said her family depends on their small herd of sheep for income.

"I'm down to 29 ewes and was getting ready to ship 30 lambs," she said. "It's how I pay my bills. We're going to have to do some rethinking. I really don't know what we're going to do."

She said they will be out early looking over their herd.

"The wolf had already eaten the lamb's back and legs and was eating the ribs when it was shot," Schram said. "We figured the kill was pretty new. The blood was still very, very wet. The warden told us to be out there tomorrow morning and to be ready."