Wolf hunting and trapping is now available to many outdoorsmen and women in the United States after years of prohibition. Expanding wolf populations have created new opportunities for hunters and trappers in states like Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Sportsmen now hunger for information about how to hunt and trap these amazing, but wary canines.
The best way to learn how to catch a wolf is to look to those who have been doing it. In Canada and Alaska, wolves have not had the protections that they’ve known in the Lower 48, and many hunters and trappers have developed and refined techniques for that have served them well. Alberta’s Gordy Klassen is recognized as Canada’s premier wolf trapper. He travels around Canada giving wolf trapping seminars both privately and for government animal-control agencies. He offers what he calls a college course in wolf trapping and hunting each year and the weeklong event is booked well in advance.
I spoke with Gordy at length and he offered some advice to first-time trappers. “Wolves are not hard to trap,” he said, “but you have to do it by their rules.” A fox or coyote trapper may catch an animal and soon have another in the same trap. Not so with wolves. “Their brain is 20 percent larger than a comparably-sized dog and they learn very quickly. You have to realize that each time you catch one, you are educating an entire pack.” They figure things out very quickly, he said, so you can’t make mistakes. You rarely get more than one chance at a wolf. One of the keys to the equation is scent control.
Whether using traps or snares, Klassen is a self-confessed scent reduction fanatic. “You can’t fool a wolf’s nose, so you have to come as close to eliminating scent as possible, and make your set so appealing that it overcomes the fear of the remaining scent.”
He uses Scent Killer spray when he sets traps and never touches any equipment with his bare hands. He is careful to never breathe on the snare or trap and even chews spearmint gum to avoid the smell of human breath in the area while constructing a set. “One drop of sweat will ruin the whole deal.” He says, so he even uses sweat bands on his head and arms when trapping in warm weather.
His equipment is clean and free from human scent or foreign odors. He uses a product called Insta-Boil to boil the scent away from the equipment and adds some pine, balsam, or spruce to the mix to give the equipment a natural smell.
When making a snare or trap set, Klassen uses a clean ground cloth to stand or kneel on. Then when a catch is made, he uses a tarp to roll the animal up into and carries it out of the area. He says if there is any blood in the area other wolves may avoid it, so he shoots the wolf behind the ear and then quickly rolls it onto the tarp to avoid blood on the ground. Dragging the wolf out may offer the animals a clue as to where it went, so that’s a no-no. Even in the winter when there is a great deal of snow cover, the caught wolves are carried out of the area, not dragged.
The wolf’s amazing ability to smell is also his undoing. Wolves are very attracted to the scent of any canine that is not a regular visitor to their hunting area. Urine and feces from wolves outside their home range are the best wolf-attractors out there—if you can get them. Klassen says many serious wolf trappers have set up exchanges in which each collects feces in sealed bags that they trade to trappers from other areas. These are then used for bait at wolf sets. The typical sets that trappers use to catch the smaller canines also catch wolves. Fox and coyote sets like dirtholes, flat sets, and urine post sets all work.
A bait station is one of the most effective ways to snare wolves. When the going is tough, wolves will come to fresh bait and are vulnerable to properly-set snares around bait stations. But Klassen doesn’t do things in the order that you might think. Rather than put out a bait and surround it with snares as the trails develop, he chooses and area for the bait and sets the snares first. He tries to anticipate the wolves’ approach to the bait site and sets 20 to 30 snares around the area in any possible trail. After a few days, any human scent that might be on or immediately in the area of each snare has dissipated. He then brings in the bait.
Snaring wolves in winter is made easier with deep snow cover. Wolves will follow the path of least resistance, even if it is a snowmobile trail. Setting snares in these trails and in places like them can be very effective. The same is true of game trails, but snares must be used with great caution where other animals are traveling.
A simple set that has accounted for a lot of wolves in the winter involves nothing more than a paper cup with a couple tiny holes in it filled with urine and suspended so it slowly drips onto the ground. Snares are set in foot-trails around the scent. You can add a stool from outside the area for extra appeal.
Location, location, location
Wolves spend the majority of their time on the fringes of their home range. A wolf pack’s home range is well defined, but they do not regularly cover every square inch of it. In fact, just the opposite is true. The animals do not aimlessly wander all over their “home range.”
“Wolves spend 95 percent of their time on the fringes of their territory,” Klassen said. “They like trails and roads, and will follow these. Power line cuts and rivers are also followed.” The edges of the territory will be defined by such a feature and the wolves make regular trips along these boundaries. Lakeshores, cliffs, swamps, and other barriers that are difficult to cross often make up the edges of their territory.
Once you find one of these areas, the sign will be abundant. Wolves will leave droppings and urinate every couple hundred feet along the boundaries of their territory. Tracks from regular use will be visible. Of course, it stands to reason that these are the high-percentage places to set your traps and the time it takes to find these boundaries is well worth the effort.
The tools of the trade
Snares are made of either 1/8-inch or 3/32-inch galvanized aircraft cable. Klassen primarily uses 3/32, 7×7 strand cable in 60-inch lengths. He then adds a swivel and another 60 inches of cable that leads to the anchor point. He is very specific about the particulars of his sets. He makes the snare loop 19 inches in diameter and sets it 18 inches above the ground. A plastic collar is used directly above the lock so the snare is held firmly in place. A support wire is held firmly in this collar.
He “loads” his snares by bending it with his fingers so it drops quickly upon first contact. He claims most of his snares hit the wolf right behind the ears and it’s lights out very shortly because the arteries that lead to the brain are affected. No blood to the brain means the wolf basically goes to sleep within seconds.
If the snare misses slightly, the wolf may be alive for some time, collared like a pet. But wolves have very sharp teeth and their jaws can exert 1,100 pounds of pressure on a snare cable. It may take some time, but it’s possible the wolf could chew the cable in two. He prevents that by anchoring the snare high or to the ground, so the lock settles either on the back of the wolf’s neck or the throat area, and he cannot get his teeth onto the cable in either case.
The RAM Power Snare in the Wolfmaster model is used when no anchoring is available. Klassen uses this setup exclusively where sign shows that the wolves are crossing beaver dams, one of his favorite places to snare them. This snare has a large spring that triggers when a wolf enters the snare, quickly closing it.
Foothold traps used include the Bridger Broad, the Alaska #9, and the 76 LAY, which is his favorite because it is center-swiveled, tough, and has offset jaws and strong springs. These big traps do not need pan covers, they are big and strong so you can sift dirt or snow right over the trap.
All traps are anchored solid, in no case is a drag or grapple used. Wolves can be dangerous and you want to know exactly where it is. Klassen uses long stakes, three feet long, made of 5/8-inch rebar. Long chains with effective swiveling are important to holding these tough, top-of-the-food-chain predators.
Wolf trapping has become available to many people for the first time. It’s no secret that wolf hunting is very controversial and even emotionally inflammatory in many circles. It pays to learn the specifics and do it right each time. Each time a trapper makes a mistake, it has the potential to flame up into a very tough situation for trappers, hunters, and game departments to deal with. Done right, wolf trapping is an important wildlife management tool and a challenge for outdoorsmen which can be carried out effectively and humanely.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.