September 20, 2020

To Catch A Wolf – Part I

Link to Part II
Link to Part III
Link to Part IV
Link to Part V

To be frank, there exists today very few people who have first hand knowledge on how to hunt a wolf. Wolf hunting many years ago became quite popular for a myriad of reasons, from the thrill of the adrenaline pumping danger to a matter of survival.

Today in America we talk of when the day comes, if ever, that the wolf we be taken off the list of protected species and man will once again be able to hunt this animal. We, including myself, often speak of the “Disneyesque” perception people today have of the wolf. I think the same can be said, at least to some degree, about how sportsmen are going to “hunt” the wolf when the time comes.

As a game management tool, specifically a population control measure, hunting has been a socially acceptable and scientifically viable means of accomplishing that task, however, I’m not so sure that we understand the difficulties we will be presented with in hunting this intelligent and highly adaptable beast.

I have been spending a considerable amount of time lately reading many accounts of methods used to hunt and kill wolves. Some of those I have already shared with you and other I’ve not. In a multi-part series I would like to take a little time and share with you some of the ingenious methods and sometimes comical tactics (you have to have a sense of humor) employed by hunters and trappers over the years.

In a book written by Will N. Graves, “Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Through the Ages“, the author shares with readers an entire chapter on successful and not so successful methods used in Russia for centuries to hunt and or capture wolves. In an article I wrote last month, I told of those methods and how they might compare to the rules the state of Idaho has laid out for wolf hunting as being effective.

In short, Idaho will prohibit using any method to trap a wolf. There are restrictions on weapons that will be allowed, no electronic calls, no baiting and no use of hounds. In other words, it is man against beast.

Teddy Roosevelt wrote quite extensively about his experiences with wolves in the U.S. during the late 1800s. He tells of the difficulties in being able to hunt the wolf. He also sheds light on the fact that the Indians and the old hunters bred dogs, often with wolves, in order to create a mean wolf fighting/hunting machine.

The true way to kill wolves, however, is to hunt them with greyhounds on the great plains. Nothing more exciting than this sport can possibly be imagined. It is not always necessary that the greyhounds should be of absolutely pure blood. Prize-winning dogs of high pedigree often prove useless for the purposes. If by careful choice, however, a ranchman can get together a pack composed both of the smooth-haired greyhound and the rough-haired Scotch deer-hound, he can have excellent sport. The greyhounds sometimes do best if they have a slight cross of bulldog in their veins; but this is not necessary. If once a greyhound can be fairly entered to the sport and acquires confidence, then its wonderful agility, its sinewy strength and speed, and the terrible snap with which its jaws come together, render it a most formidable assailant. Nothing can possibly exceed the gallantry with which good greyhounds, when their blood is up, fling themselves on a wolf or any other foe. There does not exist, and there never has existed on the wide earth, a more perfect type of dauntless courage than such a hound. Not Cushing when he steered his little launch through the black night against the great ram Albemarle, not Custer dashing into the valley of the Rosebud to die with all his men, not Farragut himself lashed in the rigging of the Hartford as she forged past the forts to encounter her iron-clad foe, can stand as a more perfect type of dauntless valor.

I have written more about Teddy Roosevelt’s experiences with wolves. You can follow this link to read. However, if you would like to read Roosevelt’s accounts in “Wolves and Wolf-Hounds“, this link will take you there. I will warn you though that some of his accounts of hunts with these dogs might be a bit gruesome, however factual.

In Russia, as well as many other places in Europe, I am discovering, for centuries they have had to learn to deal with wolves. The peasants, or common folk, couldn’t hunt for wolves because either guns were prohibited or they couldn’t afford a gun or the ammunition to use in it. Centuries of wolf encounters gave the Russians ample time to devise ways of controlling the animal.

I would like to point out however that even though I am going to share accounts of some of these methods, Russia for the most part did a lousy job of controlling wolves. In places there were too many causing the ungodly loss of life and property as historic documents now available from that country are more readily available, point out.

Sketches of Russian Life Before and During the Emancipation of the Serfs” By Henry Morley, gives us a couple accounts of how Russians dealt with wolves. Take note that in these writings, the “barons” end up utilizing the crafty ingenuity of the peasants in order to bag their “trophies”.

The first method utilizes a pig as a decoy. What I have discovered is that this was common across much of Europe as well, as I will relate in later articles. In this case, the hunters took a pig and transported it in a “strong canvas sack” on a horse drawn sleigh.

Upon reaching their hunting destination, the pig, kept in the canvas bag, was made to squeal hoping to attract the attention of wolves. Hunters would wait at a distance to shoot the wolves when they came out after the pig. (I assume that using the “strong canvas sack” not only prohibited the pig from running away, it also protected the pig from the hungry wolves. The wolves approached the bag with a squealing pig in it but didn’t know quite what to make of it.)

Two wolves emerged from the forest and after having both been killed by the hunters, the remainder of the entire pack – about 15 wolves – came out of the woods. Dragging the two dead wolves behind the sleigh and retrieving the pig and canvas bag, the hunters took off down the road luring the wolves behind.

Much as one might suspect how the aerial shooting of wolves today is done, the horses, driver and hunters coordinated their efforts and managed kill a few more of the pack.

As you can see in this case there were few restrictions placed on the hunters.

But the ingenuity gets quite interesting. Being the idea of the sleigh driver, it is decided to send the hunters ahead to a filthy retreat of many crusty trappers, where a palisade has been built to trap wolves. The palisade is a construction of poles, staves and whatever of quite large size. If wolves, or any other animal for that matter, can be lured or tricked into entering the palisade, it is then trapped. The method is almost laughable.

In a short time all was quiet and every necessary preparation made. Then came the howling of wolves and the screaming as of a pig (the driver of the sleigh, Mattvic, now riding the horse and being chased by wolves, is howling like a pig), the gallop of a horse over the hard crisp snow, the rush of many small feet. The outer door in the palisade was dashed open, and Mattvic, followed in half a minute by the whole pack, rushed in. The half-minute was just sufficient to enable Mattvic to vanish through the outer door into the trap. Then, as the last pressure on the door was removed, it closed with a loud sharp sound, and some five-and-twenty wolves were snared in a space not larger than twelve feet by twenty. We did not at first close the inner gateway, but, levelling our pieces at the mass of wolves now huddling themselves up in a corner, poured in two volleys in rapid succession, then closed the gate, and reloaded for another charge. The change from the air of ferocious savage daring which the wolves had displayed in pursuit of a single horseman, to abject terror when they found themselves caught in the narrow trap, was instantaneous. They were like sheep in a pen, crushing up in a corner, riding on the top of one another, lying down on their bellies, crouching and shivering with fear. It is not necessary to describe the scene of mere slaughter. Two staves were chopped out of the gateway, that -we might fire through. The drop-panels were opened, and two or three were admitted at a time to the next division; there dogs were let in on them through the adjoining trap, or they were killed by men with great hars of wood or axes; and at length, when only six or seven remained, three of the men went in amongst them, and with perfect safety despatched them. They say that a worm will turn on the heel that treads on it, but wolves caught in a trap like this, from which there is no escape, have less courage than a worm. They crouch, shiver, and die, as I saw, without one effort at self-defence or one snap of retaliation.

I am not suggesting in this article or any of the others that will follow, that I am advocating for this kind of wolf slaughter in Idaho or any other state that may in the future hunt wolves. But please don’t miss the point that I’m trying to make.

We don’t know how to hunt wolves. Even the experiences Americans have had in dealing with wolves dates back several decades now and it seems the only talk of these wolves involves only the fact that the wolf was driven to near extinction for several reasons, the biggest finger being pointed at man. We have been taught that the wolf is “misunderstood” and needs protecting.

With wolves growing at a rate of as high as 30% a year in some places and no indications that wolves will be removed from protection anytime soon, should that day come, we may need at our disposal more methods of hunting wolves other than one man and one rifle, lest we be forced into mass killings.

Using Russia as an example, there appeared to never be any consistency in wolf population control measures. Efforts would go out to reduce wolves in some areas and then left alone only to allow the regrowth of wolves to overgrown numbers again. When culling was needed, maybe that is what triggered the creation of ways to mass kill wolves. Better management might have prohibited this kind of action.

In future parts, I will examine other methods used in the U.S., France and Scandinavia.

Tom Remington

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When Do Wolves Become Dangerous To Humans?

Wolf Feeding on DeerMany of you have probably read several times or perhaps even heard me on my radio show talk about George Dovel and his ongoing efforts to reach people and educate them with facts about wildlife, etc. through his print publication, “The Outdoorsman”. (If you would like to subscribe to Mr. Dovel’s publication, you can write to this address: The Outdoorsman, P.O. Box 155, Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, 83629)

In the latest issue of the Outdoorsman, Dovel presents to his readers some background history on how our media, often times influenced by fish and game personnel and wildlife biologists, react to and present written information about human and wolf encounters. As part of Dovel’s presentation, he includes a great deal of information that he received from one of our very renowned wolf experts.

Dr. Valerius Geist, a Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Calgary, has years of studies in wildlife, including wolves and personal encounters with them. He is recognized by many as one of the leading authorities on wolves and wolf habits.

If you will recall back in November, I reported that a coroner’s inquest had made a determination that Kenton Carnegie, a 22-year old college student had been attacked and killed by wolves in a remote area of Northern Saskatchewan, Canada. Dr. Geist and retired Alaska wolf expert Mark McNay, were asked to represent the family of Kenton Carnegie during the inquest.

Dr. Geist points out that there is an obvious reason why wolf attacks on humans go unreported or are declared to be inconclusive as to the cause of death. Those attacks that result in death occur almost entirely when a person is alone, no one to assist in fighting off the wolves and nobody to witness what happens.

Even in Carnegie’s situation, investigators readily agreed that there were wolf tracks all around what was left of the body. I even think I recall reading that witnesses who found Carnegie, reported seeing wolves or a wolf at or near the body. The disagreements come from whether or not Carnegie was dead before the wolves appeared on the scene.

This is the biggest reason why it goes on being reported that wolf kills on humans “never” happen in North America yet most people know this is simply not true.

Dr. Geist sent to George Dovel of the Outdoorsman, part of the 61-page recording of testimony at the inquest of Kenton Carnegie in hopes that people will read expert testimony and heed the information that comes from the best in the business rather than from the media which is nothing more than an echo chamber of environmentalists who would dare never to badmouth a wolf.

Below comes from The Outdoorsman article and is part of the information provided by Dr. Valerius Geist. It is the seven stages that lead to a wolf attack on people. There is more information that goes with these seven steps. I highly recommend contacting The Outdoorsman so you can get your copy sent to you.

These Are The Seven Stages Leading To An Attack On People By Wolves

1) Within the pack’s territory prey is becoming scarce not only due to increased predation on native prey animals, but also by the prey evacuating home ranges en mass, leading to a virtual absence of prey. Or wolves increasingly visit garbage dumps at night. We observed the former on Vancouver Island in summer and fall 1999.

Deer left the meadow systems occupied by wolves and entered boldly into suburbs and farms, causing – for the first time – much damage to gardens. At night they slept close to barns and houses, which they had not done in the previous four years.

The wintering grounds of trumpeter swans, Canada geese and flocks of several species of ducks were vacated. The virtual absence of wildlife in the landscape was striking.

2) Wolves in search of food began to approach human habitations – at night! Their presence was announced by frequent and loud barking of farm dogs. A pack of sheep-guarding dogs raced out each evening to confront the wolf pack, resulting in extended barking duels at night, and the wolves were heard howling even during the day.

3) The wolves appear in daylight and observe people doing their daily chores at some distance. Wolves excel at learning by close, steady observation [1]. They approach buildings during daylight.

4) Small bodied livestock and pets are attacked close to buildings even during the day. The wolves act distinctly bolder in the actions.

They preferentially pick on dogs and follow them right up to the verandas. People out with dogs find themselves defending their dogs against a wolf or several wolves. Such attacks are still hesitant and people save some dogs.

At this stage wolves do not focus on humans, but attack pets and some livestock with determination. However, they may threaten humans with teeth exposed and growling when the humans are defending dogs, or show up close to a female dog in heat, or close to a kill or carrion defended by wolves. The wolves are still establishing territory.

5) The wolves explore large livestock, leading to docked tails, slit ears and hocks. Livestock may bolt through fences running for the safety of barns. When the first seriously wounded cattle are found they tend to have severe injuries to the udders, groin and sexual organs and need to be put down. The actions of wolves become more brazen and cattle or horses may be killed close to houses and barns where the cattle or horses were trying to find refuge. Wolves may follow riders and surround them. They may mount verandas and look into windows.

6) Wolves turn their attention to people and approach them closely, initially merely examining them closely for several minutes on end. This is a switch from establishing territory to targeting people as prey. The wolves may make hesitant, almost playful attacks biting and tearing clothing, nipping at limbs and torso. They withdraw when confronted. They defend kills by moving toward people and growling and barking at them from 10 – 20 paces away.

7) Wolves attack people. These initial attacks are clumsy, as the wolves have not yet learned how to take down the new prey efficiently. Persons attacked can often escape because of the clumsiness of the attacks.

A mature courageous man may beat off or strangulate an attacking wolf. However, against a wolf pack there is no defense and even two able and armed men may be killed. Wolves as pack hunters are so capable a predator that they may take down black bears, even grizzly bears [2]. Wolves may defend kills.

The attack may not be motivated by predation, but be a matter of more detailed exploration unmotivated by hunger. This explains why wolves on occasion carry away living, resisting children, why they do not invariably feed on the humans they killed, but may abandon such just as they may kill foxes and just leave them, and why injuries to an attacked person may at times be surprisingly light, granted the strength of a wolf’s jaw and its potential shearing power [3].

[1] – It is important to recognize here that wolves learn in a manner different from dogs, and that they excel at learning by closely observing what is going on. They are insight learners, and they solve problems, such as unlatching gates, for instance, almost at once!

Some dogs may solve this, but over a very long time, and usually not at all. Captive wolves or coyotes not only learn to open their cage, but quickly open all the others as well! And they achieve this by sitting and just watching attentively – an activity wild wolves indulge in continually.

From an elevated position they rest or sit and watch, watch, watch. Many times wolves followed me and on some occasions sat beside my cabin at night, orientated towards the cabin, apparently watching what was going on.

Wolves have large heads relative to the body and at comparable skull sizes have about ten percent more brain mass than dogs. See Ray and Lorna Coppinger 2001 Dogs, pp. 42-47, 54-55.

[2] – Personal communication by Dr. Paul Paquet from research on coastal wolves in British Columbia. Wolf scat contained fur and claws of both black bears and grizzly bears.

[3] – I am grateful to Prof. Harry Frank drawing my attention to multiple motivations of wolves attacking people.

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