For thousands of years, humans and wolves have shared a complicated and ever-changing relationship. Historically, people have held wolves in high regard, respecting them for their natural beauty and their social, almost community-like behavior. Wolves' instincts to stick together and survive remind us of important qualities humans value and try to uphold, and their resemblance to the dog, man's best friend, only strengthens their image.
However, unlike domesticated dogs, wolves pose a danger to humans. Although they're typically shy around people and would most likely run off and hide if you were to approach one, wolves are ferocious hunters and fighters -- they have the ability to injure or kill other animals, including humans. Myths, fears and legends have given the wolf a bad name -- most people remember the tale of the Big Bad Wolf from childhood stories -- and some see the wolf as a bloodthirsty, killing machine, nothing but fangs and snarl. As human populations grow and develop on land, they also tend to conflict with wolf populations. Wolves have an especially difficult relationship with ranchers, since wolves will hunt and kill cattle and sheep for food.
Like many animals in the wilderness, including bears, deer and antelope, the wolf is also hunted. People hunt wolves for a variety of reasons. Ranchers typically hunt wolves in order to protect their livestock. And it's almost always legal for people to kill a wolf, but only if they're under attack and in danger. Sometimes wolves are hunted for their fur and for trophies, and other times it's for simple recreation -- the legality of which depends on the region.
Where, when and how do people hunt wolves? Do you need a license? On the next page, we'll take a look.
Wolf Hunting Habits
Hunting seasons for wolves depends on the state, region or country they're in -- wolf hunting season in Canada, for instance, might be from April to September of one year, while the season the state of Montana planned in 2008 (before wolves were placed back on the list of protected species) only ran from October to December. This has to do mostly with the health of the wolf population: Canada has the world's largest wolf population at around 50,000 wolves [source: Defenders of Wildlife]. In contrast, Montana only has about 450 [source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks].
Since wolves' habitats are typically in northern climates, wolf hunters often hunt in the cold. Hunters' clothing reflects that environment, and they usually wear cold weather camouflage that is mostly waterproof, several layers (including long underwear), gloves and mittens, special hunting boots and thermal facemasks.
Of course, most hunters will choose to bring along a gun and ammunition to hunt wolves. Hunting rifles are the typical choice, but bowhunting is also, despite any old-school connotations, a popular alternative. In fact, officials in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, even proposed bow hunting as a way to keep wolf populations in check [source: Chan]. Hunters must be properly trained and carry the right kinds of licenses to act as a guide or participate in a hunt.
When it comes down to it, it's not the gun or the bow but rather the hunter's approach that really matters. Hunters can use what are called blinds, one of the most popular ways of staking out a spot in the open. Blinds are simply small tents -- similar to the kind you take on camping trips -- that are camouflaged to match the surroundings. The purpose is to trick the wolf and conceal the hunter safely. If a hunter is hunting in the woods, for instance, his blind would be camouflaged using the browns and greens that you would see in that particular area. Out in the snow, on the other hand, his blind would be mostly white and resemble a big pile of snow. Hunters simply stand inside a blind and shoot through small holes in the walls of the tent. Blinds can be either on the ground or elevated in the trees.
Wolf Hunting Controversy
Hunters can't always expect game to come running toward them, of course, so they often bring meat to bait the wolves. A wolf's diet consists of ungulates -- large, hoofed animals like elk and deer -- but hunters, for the sake of not dragging an entire dead moose out into the wilderness, will usually bring cuts of meat from larger prey or meat from smaller prey, such as rabbit, which wolves will eat gladly. As an extra measure, many hunters learn specific calls that mimic wounded animals in order to attract wolves to their area.
In places like Alaska where wolf hunting isn't heavily regulated, it's possible, with the right licenses, to go on wolf hunting trips led by experienced guides. These guides will coach tourists on baiting and calling and provide the tour with the right signals and methods for a successful wolf hunt. Costs range between $2,500 and $3,500, and outfitters often provide food and lodging for about one week.
Wolf management is highly controversial, especially in several regions of North America where people have historically extirpated wolves. Wolf poaching in an area where wolves are protected is illegal -- laws vary, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) typically gives hunters $1,000 to $2,000 in penalties and revokes hunting licenses for three to five years, but the federal government can send hunters to jail and fine them as much as $100,000 for illegally shooting a wolf. Generally, hunters are allowed to hunt wolves in places where wolf populations are large, like Canada and Alaska, and there is no risk of extirpation. Regions where wolf populations have fluctuated dramatically, like the Yellowstone region in the United States, have more restrictions. The only time it's acceptable to shoot a wolf in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, states where wolves have had to undergo reintroduction, is when a wolf attacks a person or threatens livestock. In these cases, the event has to be reported to the FWS within one to three days, and physical evidence of any such struggle (injured or dead livestock, trampled areas, tracks and so on) must be reported as well.
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More Great Links
- Alpine Outfitters. "Wolf hunts with Alpine Outfitters, Alberta wolf hunting guides and outfitters." 2007. (Nov. 14, 2008) http://www.alpineoutfitters.com/alberta_wolf_hunts.asp
- Defenders of Wildlife. "Gray wolf." (Nov. 10, 2008) http://www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/wildlife/wolf,_gray.php
- Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the Fish and Wildlife Service. "Airborne Hunting Act." Nov. 18, 1971. (Nov. 17, 2008) http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/airborn.html
- Hunting Outfitters. "Wolf hunting season changes in Ontario, Canada." March 20, 2005. (Nov. 17, 2008) http://www.huntingoutfitters.ca/Wolf_hunting_in_Ontario.htm
- Idaho Fish and Game Department. "Wolf poaching carries federal and state penalties." June 30, 2005. (Nov. 17, 2008) http://www.biggamehunt.net/sections/Idaho/ Wolf_Poaching_Carries_Federal_and_State_Penalties_06300507.html
- Martin, L.H. "Wolf-hunting in Wisconsin." The New York Times. Jan. 29, 1876. (Nov. 10, 2008) http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/ pdf?res=9E0DE3DA113FE73BBC4151DFB766838D669FDE
- Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "Wolves in Montana." 2007. (Nov. 17, 2008) http://fwp.mt.gov/wildthings/wolf/population.html
- The New York Times. "Wolf hunting in Brittany." Feb. 13, 1876. (Nov. 10. 2008) http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res= 9806E6D9143AE63BBC4B52DFB466838D669FDE
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."Summary of the Wisconsin wolf management plan." Oct. 27, 1999. (Nov. 17, 2008) http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/state-plans/wiplnsum.htm