In an online questionnaire about their wolf-hunting experiences, members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation offer valuable intel that could help more hunters enjoy the challenge and fill their wolf tag this fall.
RMEF members’ goal in sharing this information is simple: More successful wolf hunters mean better balance in areas where undermanaged predator populations are impacting elk and other wildlife.
“Elk are the inspiration behind our organization’s 6 million-plus acres of habitat conservation,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “No conservation group has a membership more invested in elk country, more affected by wolves or more passionate about achieving balance. That’s why RMEF members are eager to share their collective experience in a type of hunting still new to most of us.”
In parts of the northern Rockies, burgeoning numbers of wolves, bears and lions are compounding habitat issues, all contributing to elk calf survival rates too low to sustain elk herds for the future. RMEF continues to conserve habitat while sponsoring litigation and legislation to clear the way for wolf management via hunting.
But wolves are providing a challenge that could make adequate population control easier said than done. Of the 710 respondents to the questionnaire, less than 7 percent killed a wolf during the inaugural hunting seasons in Idaho and Montana.
Lack of success was not for lack of trying. Half of the respondents spent 8 or more days afield in 2011 with an eye peeled for wolves. One RMEF member reported hunting for over 100 days before he finally got a wolf, writing, “Never had so much excitement in one winter! Looking forward to next year.”
More than 60 percent of respondents said wolf sign was plentiful in their hunting area, while another 27 percent encountered “some” tracks, scat, vocalizations, etc. Yet only 47 percent of respondents actually saw a wolf.
Another RMEF member says he now has, “a lot more respect for the world’s largest pack predator. To kill a wolf takes more time and dedication than I expected. Once they have been pressured they get very hard to find.”
Among those who bagged a wolf, 20 percent credited their success to a coincidental encounter with their quarry. Calling, watching and waiting in a likely area, and stalking were reported as the most productive proactive hunting strategies.
An RMEF member who was part of multiple wolf kills says he can’t understate the importance of staying close to elk. “The No. 1 cardinal rule for finding wolves is finding elk first. Sad but true. If you can find a herd of elk, especially a herd a mile or so from a road, it’s just a matter of time before wolves show up,” he wrote.
More tips and observations from the RMEF member questionnaire.
Scouting and Prep
- Wolves can be patterned like other game. Scouting will help you find travel routes, crossings, etc.
- Use a good spotting scope and spend more time glassing your hunt area.
- Wolves tend to travel the easy routes. Watch roads, trails, frozen lakes, etc.
- Be prepared to shoot accurately at long distances and at moving targets up close.
- Standard varmint calibers do not do the job on wolves. Prefer .30-06 or .300 WSM.
- I hunt in thick country and prefer to hunt with a shotgun and buckshot.
- Hire an outfitter!
- Wolves are where the game is. If there are hooved animals in your area, you’re likely to have wolves, too.
- Many hunters won’t shoot a wolf when they’re close to elk and deer. Need to change that mindset. Go on more hunts specifically for wolves, not for wolves as a byproduct of another hunt. (Questionnaire data reveal that only 11 percent of respondents hunted exclusively for wolves; most hunted for wolves as part of a deer or elk hunt.)
- Will be in better shape next year.
- Get permission from private landowners. Last year I hunted Forest Service land but kept seeing wolves lower on private ground. Lots of landowners are happy to have wolf hunters. Could lead to other hunting opportunities down the road.
- Check with ranchers, loggers and others who spend time in the backcountry. Ask them about the wolf activity they’re seeing.
- Start driving roads and howling to locate packs well before sunrise. I start at 3:00 a.m.
- Carry a pistol while bowhunting (where legal) so you have some firepower in case you see a wolf.
- Most wolf hunters want to shoot a big trophy male. But taking females is better for population control. The main thing is just don’t shoot a collared wolf. We need those collars to track the packs—and funding for collaring wolves is getting tighter.
- Be hunting at first light and hunt through the last light of day. Lots of wolf activity is early and late.
- We had luck with howling. The wolves came right to us. But there are many other wolf vocalizations, too, and we’re trying to learn those for 2012.
- Howling works to locate wolves. But too much howling, especially by inexperienced callers, is educating wolves in our area.
- Elk-calf-in-distress, fawn-in-distress and coyote calls work well.
- I called in wolves using a bull elk bugle and cow calls.
- Next year, we’re planning to try moose calls.
- Don’t over-call.
- When calling, be sure to set-up on high ground, not in a hole or depression. Visibility is a key.
- I hunted wolves for 42 days before I got one. I tracked a pack into an area, sat at a crossing and called. Really enjoyed the experience.
- Cover lots of ground until you find a concentration of sign. We followed fresh wolf tracks through the snow until we found the pack holed up in a patch of trees.
- I found tracking difficult. Even when you’re on fresh tracks, you might still be miles behind the pack. Better off to get somewhere and wait.
- I think a driving technique with a group of hunters, such as that used for deer in some areas, would work for wolves.
- Watch for birds—magpies, gray jays, ravens and vultures—as a tipoff to fresh kill locations. Approach carefully and then watch the area for returning wolves.
- An effective hunting technique for us was finding a fresh wolf kill and watching the area from a tree stand.
- Considering using a blind. Wolves seem to spot blaze orange from a great distance.
- Watch gutpile and carcass areas where hunters have taken deer and elk, especially late in the season when wolves are following game herds down from the high country and are attracted to the scent of blood.
- Don’t hunt for wolves like you do for elk. Hunt as if you were hunting for another elk hunter. Anticipate differently. Don’t ask yourself what would an elk do in this situation, but rather what would an elk hunter do in this situation.
- Wolves are more reckless in their pursuit of prey when it’s colder outside. Hunters should concentrate on bad weather days for wolf hunting.
- Go deeper. Wolves are less wary and easier to hunt in the more remote areas.
- Too much pressure and wolves will go nocturnal.
- Hunt smart and be patient. And go with a companion who can watch your back.
- Once you kill a wolf, stay put. Other wolves from the pack will often return to the site, sometimes very quickly. You or a buddy may get a chance at a second wolf.
- Our state needs more accommodating policies and prices for nonresidents who’d like to come wolf hunting. Consider including a wolf tag with every nonresident elk tag.
- Offer discounts for buying multiple tags. Hunters need more tags in their pocket in case they find a pack and have opportunities to take several wolves at once.
- There are still too many restrictions for wolf hunting to be an effective control measure. We need baiting, electronic calling, same-day airborne hunting, night hunting, hunting with dogs, no blaze orange, longer seasons, etc. More liberal trapping regulations would help, too.
- Need a law to prohibit anti-hunters from harassing wolf hunters. Last year we had some anti’s push wolves out of a popular hunting area right before season opened.
- Wolves in our area are surprisingly unafraid of people or human scent.
- In our area, cover scent is important. I’ve had passing wolves pick up my scent when passing elk didn’t. Once they get downwind, they’re gone.
- Hunters need more info about how to completely, and safely, utilize a wolf carcass: meat, hide and skull.
- Would like to see good prices offered by fur buyers.
- In my area, the elk are nearly gone and the wolves have moved on.
- Elk behavior has changed. Wolves have made elk less likely to graze in the open. Bulls hang out more in the rougher country, thicker timber and are less mobile and vocal during the rut. We see a lot fewer cows with calves.
- In our area, elk are more skittish and quieter now. They run in smaller groups rather than the big herds we used to see. They spend more time on lower-elevation private property where I cannot access them.
- More elk in the low country means more elk along the highways. Increasing roadkill might be related to wolves.
- My experience in Alaska taught me that trapping, not hunting, is a much more effective means of harvesting wolves.
- If we don’t get better wolf management in my area, I worry that western big-game hunting will become one of those things that old folks tell stories about—and that our young people will never know.
Image courtesy RMEF