Wolves and wolf hunting have attracted a great deal of attention as of late. For decades, the opportunity to hunt wolves in North America existed only in Alaska and a few Canadian provinces. However, with the delisting of the wolf as an endangered or threatened species, control of the management of wolves has reverted to individual states in their range, so new wolf hunts are being considered, proposed, and opened in states where it has been illegal to kill a wolf for decades.
To some hunters, the howl of a wolf in the middle of a winter night is a true sign that he or she is in a remote hunting camp. It’s an experience that adds to the hunting adventure. To others, the wolf is competition for game and a predator that has few or no predators of its own. Without management, wolves will throw everything out of the natural balance.
Wolves will without a doubt continue to stir controversy between ranchers, hunters, conservationists, wilderness lovers, and the non-hunting public. Yet, in the foreseeable future they should provide expanded hunting opportunity over a widening range in the Lower 48 states.
Many names are given to the wolf in North America, but the overall species name is Gray Wolf. In different regions, you may hear it called wolf, common wolf, timber wolf, tundra wolf, or arctic wolf. While there are as many as 24 subspecies in North America, all are considered in a single category for Safari Club International recordkeeping. Boone & Crockett does not consider wolves to be a big game species.
Distribution of wolves is historically global. They are broken into two categories: northern wolves and southern wolves. Northern wolves (of which the gray wolf is the primary species) range in North America, Europe, and northern Asia. Southern wolves are smaller animals with different characteristics from their distant northern cousins. They range across southern Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and northern Africa.
Shoulder height of adult, male gray wolves is approximately 30 inches. Body length is 40-60 inches with another 20 inches of tail length added to that. Weight can reach more than 100 pounds when a wolf is in prime condition. Frequently, photos show up on the internet of wolves reportedly weighing 150 pounds or more, but it’s difficult to verify the validity of such postings and reports. Overall, female wolves are about 20 percent smaller than males.
The gray wolf is the largest wild member of the canine family and is considered the origin of the domestic dog. The wolf’s coat is moderately long and thick. A prime winter pelt is coveted for making luxurious garments and trim. Coloration ranges from white (especially on wolves that range in the arctic regions commonly called “arctic wolves”) through shades of gray and brown to black, with the grays most common.
Wolves are known as pack animals. The usual pack consists of a mated pair, and their adult offspring. Average pack size is half a dozen to a dozen animals, though larger packs sometimes form from multiple families, especially when wolves are pursuing herd animals like caribou as a primary food source.
Wolves are highly territorial animals with large ranges. It’s not uncommon for a pack to range over hundreds of square miles, though the core of a territory in which the pack spends most of its time may be as small as 10 square miles. Territories are defined by scent marking, direct confrontation with neighboring packs, and howling.
Pack members hunt together, cooperating to run down and kill prey animals that are typically larger than themselves. Principal prey includes deer, elk, moose, caribou, mountain sheep, bison and muskox, domestic sheep and cattle, but also beaver, rabbit, and various rodents even down to tiny lemmings. Though primarily carnivores, wolves are also known to eat carrion and plant material at times.
Mating season is late winter or early spring, with the pups born two months later in an underground den.
Wolves are highly adaptive to terrain and cover types. The most important aspect of selecting and staying within the pack’s territory is an ample supply of prey. Wolves are found in the forest, tundra, plains and mountains even to fairly high elevations. In North America today, wolves are found in Alaska, Yukon Territories, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Wolf populations and pack territories are currently expanding in the western United States and sightings are now reported on occasion in most western states, though not all have been confirmed.
Wolves still range today in Europe and parts of Asia as well.
Since the 1970s when wolves were listed as endangered in all regions of the contiguous 48 states, hunting in North America has been restricted pretty much to Alaska and northwestern Canada. However, with delisting since 2010 limited hunting has become available in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Since these seasons in the Lower 48 are relatively new and mostly restricted to resident hunters, outfitting wolf hunts here is also in its infancy.
In the regions where wolves have been continuously hunted, they have largely been taken incidentally to other game on outfitted hunts. For example, caribou hunters sometimes encounter wolves while they are on the tundra. In many hunting locations it’s possible to purchase a wolf tag in addition to a caribou license to be prepared should the opportunity to take a wolf arise. Wolves are sometimes taken by bear hunters in Canada when they come into bear bait set-ups. Experienced outfitters can tell you how often these incidental opportunities arise in their hunting camps each season and you can decide whether to purchase additional wolf tags in case such an opportunity comes your way.
Few outfitters key on wolves as a specific target trophy game animal. However, those that do may employ baiting, spot-and-stalk, and even calling hunting techniques.
A unique and expanding opportunity to hunt wolves is offered by some versatile hunting outfitters. They have created combination hunting/trapping packages during which you can accompany a trapper on his lines for a week or 10 days during the winter. During that time, you can take any wolves that you encounter. These trips are true winter wilderness adventures that demand physical fitness and the ability to tolerate cold. Done in the northern-most regions of Alaska and Canada, such trips are mostly conducted in the dark because of the short daylight hours of the winter. Transportation is usually by snowmobile.
Because hides are at their most prime during the coldest parts of the winter, that’s when most specific wolf hunting is done. In gearing up for the trip, you’ll need to take this serious cold into consideration when selecting and preparing all of your clothing and equipment. For optics, high-quality 10x binoculars are a must, and a rangefinder will be helpful, too. Any flat-shooting, big game rifle will work for shooting a wolf, but consider bullet selection carefully. The trophy in a wolf is the hide that you may want to have done as a rug or a full-body mount, so choose a bullet designed to minimize damage to the pelt, but offer sufficient shock to quickly anchor the wolf. They are tough, tenacious animals that are difficult to trail when wounded.
Though wolves are listed as an offering by many Alaskan and Canadian outfitters, there are few offering them as a primary hunting species. Most offer wolves as an add-on opportunity to hunt other big game animals. However, with the increasing territory in which wolves can be hunted and the option of the “hunting/trapping” package trips, more outfitters will be offering wolf hunting in the near future.
Selecting a wolf hunting outfitter requires all the same research and verification of any big game hunting adventure – in newly opened territories, even more, to ensure the experience of the outfitter and guides. OutfittersRating.com is the best place to start … and finish … your search for a wolf hunting outfitter. Remember, “trust, but verify.”