Elk NetworkTracking the Wolf

Conservation | May 23, 2017

Wolves are among the most elusive species on the landscape.  They are notoriously sly with sharp senses which make them extremely difficult to hunt.  And now, hunters are gearing up for the challenge with inaugural wolf seasons this fall in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, plus continuing hunts in Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Canada.

More successful wolf hunters mean better balance in areas where undermanaged predator populations have a more significant impact on elk and other wildlife.  In some parts of the northern Rockies, growing numbers of wolves, bears and lions compound habitat issues, all contributing to lower elk calf survival rates and fewer adult elk to sustain herds for the future.  “Elk are the inspiration behind our organization’s six million-plus acres of habitat conservation,” said Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President and CEO David Allen.  “No conservation group has a membership more invested in elk country, more affected by wolves or more passionate about achieving balance.”  RMEF continues to conserve habitat while advocating clearing the way for wolf management via approved state-based management practices.

Doctor David Mech is a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, founder of the International Wolf Center and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota.  He spent the last 53 years studying wolves.  It is his life work.  While addressing a Minnesota legislative committee this past January, Mech praised the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for its approach to use hunting and trapping to manage the state’s estimated population of 3,000 wolves with a quota of 400.  He said “trapping and snaring would be the most effective” way to take a wolf.  He continued to say “It is difficult to hunt wolves, not impossible.  There will be some people who learn how to do it.”

That’s the catch.  Trapping aside, just how do you do it?  Thousands of sportsmen and women spent decades successfully seeking and harvesting elk and deer, but wolf hunting is a whole new ballgame.

Mech says the best way to find wolves is to start by finding the animals they prey upon—deer and elk.  But even then it’s difficult because wolf packs are extremely mobile.  Wolves in Minnesota alone cover 13 to 15 miles a day within a 60 to 80 square mile territory.

Of more than 700 RMEF members who responded to a questionnaire about wolf hunting in Idaho and Montana, less than seven percent killed an animal.  Other interesting questionnaire statistics:

  • 60 percent of respondents report wolf sign was plentiful
  • 47 percent actually saw wolves
  • 27 percent saw tracks, scat or head calls
  • Of successful wolf hunters, 20 percent credit a coincidental encounter

Some of their tips include locate howling packs well before sunrise, concentrate on bad weather days, be smart and patient, be in good shape, and enjoy the experience.

(This is a reprint of an article published on the Sportsman Channel blog on August 6, 2012.)