After Tyler requests help from a passing dogsled driver who ignores him, Ootek finds Tyler unconscious in the snow and transports him and his supplies to a thatched hut then continue on his journey. While exploring his new environment, Tyler falls into a frozen lake and saves himself by puncturing the ice on the surface with the barrel of his rifle. With the spring thaw underway, Tyler makes camp near a wolf’s den, and observes the behavior of a white wolf he names “George.” Tyler establishes boundaries with the animal by marking his territory with urine. He also discovers George’s mate, which he names “Angeline,” and their three cubs. Despite the absence of caribou and other game, the wolves appear to thrive on a diet of mice. With his own food supply nearly exhausted and his tent overrun with rodents, Tyler decides to emulate the wolves. He observes the deferential behavior of other wolves in the den and determines that George and Angeline are leaders of their pack. Among them is a brown wolf Tyler names “Uncle Albert,” because of his affinity for the cubs. Tyler imitates the sound of howling wolves with his bassoon and joins the animals as they call to each other.
Ootek returns, accompanied by Mike, who acts as his father’s translator. Tyler tries to teach Mike to play the bassoon, but the young man is prevented by his lack of front teeth. One night, Ootek tells the story of how a wolf saved him from the cold and became his “helping spirit.” Later, Mike describes the proper technique for hunting wolves, explaining that he and many others earn a living from selling wolf pelts, which are valued at $350 each. However, Mike promises not to kill George and his pack, out of consideration for Tyler. Other members of Ootek’s family visit during the last week of August, and as the group sits around the campfire, Mike narrates the Inuit legend of the caribou, and how the hunters left only the weak and sick among the herds. When the wolves appeared, they attacked only the weakest animals, allowing the caribou to regain their strength, and provide food and clothing for the Inuit. As wolves howl in the distance, Mike informs Tyler that the caribou are coming from the north, and the hunting will soon begin. Ootek’s family travels north, Mike travels south, and Ootek guides Tyler on a three-day journey to the tundra, to observe the wolves as they hunt caribou. Shortly after their arrival, Tyler lies naked in the sun after a swim in the river, and suddenly finds himself surrounded by caribou. He follows a pack of wolves as they give chase and kill one of the fleeing animals.
Later, Tyler examines the carcass and discovers a disease of the bone marrow. As he watches Ootek disappear in the distance, Tyler follows the sound of gunshots to an encampment, where Rosie and two companions roast caribou meat over a fire. Rosie is glad to see Tyler, whom he expected to have died in the wilderness. He tells the biologist of his plans to build a resort around a nearby hot spring, then offers to fly Tyler back to civilization. Noticing that the airplane is loaded with wolf pelts, Tyler refuses. Rosie is indifferent to Tyler’s outrage and promises to come back for him in the next few days. Three days later, Tyler returns to his campsite and finds George and Angeline’s cubs alone in the den. Rosie’s plane flies overhead and Tyler fires his rifle to dissuade the pilot. As Rosie flies away, Tyler hears a radio playing in a nearby shack and discovers Mike inside, preparing to travel north for the winter. When Tyler asks about the missing wolves, Mike advises him to worry about his own survival, explaining that the slaughter of George and Angeline is a sad reality. Mike smiles as he invokes the phrase “survival of the fittest,” displaying a new set of false teeth. In retrospect, Tyler concludes, “There were no simple answers; no heroes, no villains, only silence.” However, he also understands that his pioneering study of wolves would change humanity’s perception of the animals. As autumn arrives, the cubs are adopted by the pack and taken to a distant location. Ootek returns to guide Tyler out of the wilderness.