How to Hunt Wolves When They're Hunting You

Do you have what it takes to be hunted by one of North America’s top predators? When you're hunting wolves, they're hunting you.

How to Hunt Wolves When They're Hunting You

If you hunt wolves in the middle of winter, be prepared for cold, snow and frozen mouth call reeds. If hunting during other seasons, staying patient and alert are critical components of a successful hunt. (Photo: Michael D. Faw)

The black timber wolf appeared along the edge of the dark boreal forest like a ghost. Its piercing yellow eyes were staring at the ground blind I was hunkered in, and that thin nylon blind sat in the middle of a very open Canada forest trail. Then the wolf started moving toward me.

My trip to Canada began with lots of paperwork, dealing with customs and airline counter staff who know nothing about gun laws and meeting a mountain of regulations to legally travel into Canada with a firearm and ammunition. Finally, I arrived in northern Alberta, met my guide at the small town airport and at a rural range stopped to check my rifle and riflescope for accuracy. 

Because early spring days in northern Canada are long, very long, I was up at 4 a.m. the next morning and soon on the way to the remote ground blind. I found the blind by flashlight and by 5:30 a.m. it was full light around me. I could see a small river about 200 yards below me, and then see up a gas line cut that pushed through the forest and up the opposing hillside much like a logging trail. Not much time had passed before a pure white wolf came down that long opening on the distant hill and disappeared into brush by the river. I was going to shoot, but the lanky leg wolf kept moving at a quick pace and disappeared before I could get the rifle’s safety off.

Wolves were obviously on the move, so I began rabbit squealing with a mouth call and adding in coyote pup distress calls with an electronic call. Between periods of calling, I sat silently and observed.

By midmorning, the sun was out, temperatures were rising and I thought things were going to be slow. Suddenly, four wolves appeared across the river. They stood and stared as the coyote pup distress calls filled the air. This time, those wolves all turned and headed my way. 

Once they were by the river and in the dense brush along its edge, I lost sight of them. I was still hoping they would appear directly below me — and then I saw the slight movement to my left in the dark forest.  Though I had seen two gray wolves and two black wolves by the river, for some odd reason I first thought the large dark object in the forest was a bear. It was close. Then the wolf stepped out of the forest and was staring directly at me from about 30 yards away. It moved closer and was in a ditch that ran beside the cutline trail, so I could easily see its head and those freaky piercing wolf eyes.

Suddenly that timber wolf started moving out of the ditch, and it was definitely coming directly to me. As I slightly shifted the rifle, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was being hunted by one of North America’s top predators.   

As the wolf moved up out of the ditch, it had its head low as to sniff the ground. I saw an opportunity, had the rifle aimed, and the .30-06 Federal bullet struck the spine. That wolf collapsed at the edge of the trail without as much as a yelp or howl, and lay motionless about 20 yards away. I stayed in the blind for a while in case another wolf appeared.

When I did go to the wolf, I first noted it was big — much bigger than I would have thought. I had been thinking coyote-size critter and I would simply swing it over my shoulder and walk to the truck. Wrong. In fact, I did go get the truck, drive to the site and discovered loading a 125-pound plus wolf is much like loading a whitetail deer — a chore. 

Where The Wolves Are

The gray, or timber, wolf was placed under federal protection on the endangered species list in the mid-1970s. Those wolves were delisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2017 and since then most states with wolves within their borders have jumped through the many hoops to establish acceptable wolf management plans. Unfortunately, lawsuits in select federal courts by anti-hunting groups have mostly managed wolf populations by closing wolf hunting seasons for a long list of frivolous reasons.

The gray wolf is a lightning rod for court actions, decisions and reversals. Since the wolf was delisted from the endangered species list in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington have gotten approved plans to manage their wolf populations. Wolves have also reportedly appeared in California. Wolf populations to the east, in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota are also strong. 

Wisconsin DNR reports more than 1,000 wolves roam that state, and it is also a top state where packs of wolves have killed dogs while hunters are legally hunting other species. Lone, long-distance dispersing wolves have been reported from those listed states in North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska and Kansas.

Wolf numbers can increase quickly, and the 66 wolves released in 1996 around Yellowstone National Park have now grown to more than 1,700 today. By some estimates when white settlers arrived in North America, the land was home to more than 250,000 wolves. But wolves eat livestock and that put them in conflict with settlers who established wolf wars and bounties.

North of the U.S. border in Canada, today there are an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 wolves in eastern Canada and 15,000 in western Canada, each of which is connected to the adjacent region wolf population in the U.S. Canada, however, has seen the problem, wanted to correct it and opened wolf hunting seasons without limits in most regions. 

In Alberta, the wolf population is growing. Gray wolves are listed as a game species in much of Canada and up to 10 percent of the population is killed each year because many hunters there hunt wolves. The country also has a large number of outfitters who guide hunters to wolves and a wide range of hunting packages and options can be found from October through March each year. There, you can bait wolves and trap them with leg-hold traps and snares. It seems everyone there hates wolves.

Back below the border in America, Idaho and Montana have established wolf hunting seasons. A few seasons back, Montana dropped the price of a wolf tag for a non-resident from approximately $350 to $50 and made them available over-the-counter. In Idaho, the state’s game department classifies wolves as big game and sells an unlimited number of licenses to residents and non-residents — over the counter. In Wyoming, wolves are protected in Yellowstone and the surrounding area, and are classified as predators to be hunted outside of the northwest region of the state. 

Unfortunately, wolf hunting laws change as quickly as long-legged wolves cover ground. You should research the most up-to-date information in the state, territories and regions where you plan to hunt wolves. In Idaho, for example, wolf hunting is permitted on private property for much of the year. In some areas, wolf hunting can be halted after a certain number are killed and reported.

Wolves kill many elk and moose each winter. One Minnesota DNR research project revealed that wolves take a devastating toll on moose populations. During the research, biologists found that of approximately 30 moose carcasses surveyed, more than half were killed by wolves. That wolf research in the North Start State also discovered more than 2,000 wolves living in Minnesota with those wolves divided into about 500 packs. They are mostly located in the state’s northern third. The state had wolf hunting seasons in 2012 and 2013, but a lawsuit closed the hunt in 2014 — and the years since.

Good Wolf Medicine

Wolves are large, have a lot of body mass and are coated with thick hair that can absorb and retain a lot of blood when shot. Using your favorite centerfire deer rifle and riflescope will be a benefit because you know the rifle and caliber, the recoil and rifle performance. Standard rifles such as .270 Win. or .30-06 will work well.

You should carry a set of shooting sticks, rangefinder and a comfortable seat so you can call and wait. Binoculars also help you scan and find hidden wolves that are concealed in the brush — and watching you.

If you wish to bring a wolf pelt back to the U.S., there is a lot of paperwork and waiting. It was nearly three months before my wolf pelt was released by customs to cross the border. Luckily it arrived in good shape and became a striking full-body mount. 

Deadly Wolves On Wolves

In addition to hunters, who kills wolves? Other wolves! The leading cause of death of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park region is other wolves. Once a pack claims a territory, it will attack invading or wandering wolves to defend that turf. Vicious wolf attacks on other wolves have been well documented. A lone male wolf pushed out of a pack is up against tall odds in surviving if it enters an area already claimed by another pack.

Humans also kill wolves by various methods. Cars claim them on highways and ranchers shoot them because wolves kill sheep and cattle. Some states have funds to reimburse ranchers for wolf-killed cattle. In early 2019, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks was asking for donations to replenish the state’s wolf damages fund. The state sold more than 14,000 wolf hunting licenses to residents in 2017 and another 2,000 licenses to non-residents. Those hunters killed more than 160 wolves, with most coming from areas north of Yellowstone National Park and north of Missoula.

In Montana, it is unlawful to bait wolves, use dogs to hunt wolves and also unlawful to use trail/game cameras to check areas for wolves. With more than 16,000 licenses and only 160 dead wolves, what happened? Most Montana hunters buy a wolf tag in case they see one but do not brave the raw cold to actively hunt them.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Remember Little Red Riding Hood? There have been several well documented wolf attacks on humans. Two recent ones have resulted in human deaths—and partially eaten bodies. A family camping in a tent also was recently attacked by a lone wolf. Luckily, another camper heard the screams and struggle and came to their rescue.

Get Your Wolf

Wolves are secretive, so you will have to do research to help you find and kill a wolf. Start with the game department for statistics such as kill success by other hunters and places where seasons were closed early because of hunter successes. Some states also provide information on ranches where wolves have attacked livestock. Once you zero in on a region, a visit to a community farm supply store could point you to local ranches where wolves are problems.

Wolves are interesting animals. A wolf can weigh up to 150 pounds, can live up to eight years in the wild and can have four to seven pups each spring in each litter. Mating seasons are generally in January and February (a good time to be afield and hunting) and pups are born in April and May. Wolves can eat up to 20 pounds of meat in a single meal. Yes, wolves travel in packs, but also expect to see solo animals while hunting.

As more hunters take an interest in hunting and killing wolves, this should help more desirable wildlife populations recover and reduce the problems for other hunter and landowners. Gear up and get your wolf war going.

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