Are you interested in wolf hunting? From all the media attention brought up by the anti-hunting groups, one might be inclined to think that getting a shot at a wolf is extremely easy. These groups keep claiming that hunting season means eradication of wolves, implying wolves will be easy to kill. I, on the other hand, have a little more respect for the wolf and its ability to survive as the new top predator of the Northern Rockies.
Enough wolves have been shot under kill permits for killing livestock and pets in the last few years that the majority of wolves in Idaho and Montana aren’t nearly as bold as they were when they were first reintroduced. Once they have been hunted, wolves are generally extremely cautious and prefer to stay out of the open as much as possible. Anyone who has hunted them in Canada or Alaska will attest.
Because of the difficulty of actually finding wolves, many people, certainly beginner hunters, may not be up to the challenge. A lot of stamina and patience is involved in hunting wolves, and to really enjoy a wolf hunt you need to be the kind of person who appreciates the hunt as much as the kill. Another difficult aspect of hunting wolves stems from the fact that wolves do a lot of their own hunting at night. Currently both Montana and Idaho hunting seasons prohibit the hunting of wolves at night. That means spotlighting wolves when they’re most active will not be an option.
Basically, there are 2 ways to hunt wolves. The first way is to …well, not really hunt wolves, but rather keep a tag in your pocket just in case when you’re out hunting deer or elk. You never know when you might stumble into a pack of wolves, so it’s a good idea to be prepared even if you’re hunting something else. If you come across wolf hunting, it’s likely that they’ll see you before you see them, so you should be prepared to get a quick shot off because there probably won’t be much time for hesitation.
The second way to hunt if you’re interested in shooting a wolf is to wait for the wolf to come to you. In Canada, they can bait in wolves, but in the States, wolves are currently considered a game species & baiting is not allowed. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a wolf to come to you though. Wolves are very territorial, and will patrol their territory regularly to keep out other wolves and predators. If you have seen wolf tracks or signs in an area, it’s a good bet that you’re in a packs territory and that they’re not far off, or they’ll be back again soon. In areas like these, predator calling can work very well.
Calling a wolf is much like calling a coyote. I’m not going to assume everyone reading this, however, is an expert on calling coyotes, so I’ll explain a few things you need to know. Predators, in general, are inquisitive by nature. Usually they are on the look out for the next meal. Dying or sick prey is a great treat for a predator because all the hard work has usually been done already. Given the choice between running down a deer, or chomping down a carcass that something else killed, you’ll see that almost every predator will prefer scavenging an easy meal. Wolves are no exception. Because of this, calling predators in with the sounds of dying prey animals is extremely effective. Calls that work can range from a squeaker that imitates a field mouse to a cow elk call. Perhaps the most popular, and arguably most effective are the calls made to imitate the death squalls of a cottontail or jack rabbit. While a rabbit might not seem like much of a meal for a wolf, it’s still an enticing, easy snack. Wolves, unlike coyotes, often prey on elk, and can also be called in with the same cow elk call you would use to bring a big bull elk in with. There doesn’t even have to be a hint of distress in the calls for this to work. With all these options, you can use what ever call you’re most proficient with or have handy.
Now days if you visit a Cabelas, or your local sporting goods store you’ll see an entire section filled with game calls for predators and elk. Calls generally come in 3 variations:
Closed reed calls have a mouth piece kind of like a flute at the end that you simply put your lips over and blow into. These types of calls are extremely easy to use and I would recommend them if you have never used one before. The limitation of these calls is that the range of sounds they make is fixed so you can’t get much variation out of them. They are still very effective.
Open reed calls are exactly that. The reed is the piece that vibrates to produce the sound is exposed. These calls are more difficult because they don’t work just by blowing on to them. You can vary the pitch of the sounds by sliding your lips across the reed, and by varying the pressure you put on the reed can produce a wide range of sounds. These types of calls take some getting used to, but can produce very natural sounds. The one real draw back I’ve found is that in the frigid winters, and even fall months of the North West, an open reed call is very prone to freeze up from your spit when the temperature heads south, making them unusable.
If your shopping for calls, no doubt you’ll stumble across the new electronic versions. These come loaded with various calls and have a speaker attached.
If you are hunting wolves make sure you check with your local wildlife management agency to verify whether or not electronic calls may be used.
That’s a pretty brief overview of calls that are available, but to go into more depth would require another article. There is one other method of calling wolves that, surprisingly, is also quite effective and actually requires no call. That method is howling.
It may sound kind of silly, and you might laugh at the thought of sitting on a hill howling off into the woods, but if you’ve got the throat for it you’ll be surprised how effective this can be. Its no secret wolves like to howl. They’re one of the most vocal critters on earth. Combine that with their fierce territorial behavior, and you’ve got a recipe that can put a whole pack of wolves in your lap. Now, I won’t proclaim to be an expert at this, but I do know a rancher in East Idaho that grazes cattle in Unit 28 in Idaho which is packed full of wolves. He’s on several occasions got entire packs howling back at him, and even had one female wolf run up less than a hundreds yards and challenge him with territorial howls, barks, and growls.
UPDATE: If you don’t feel like sitting around howling all by your self, there are few places making a wolf howler now. Several are modeled after coyote howlers, and work alright, but we have found the Wolf Howler Wolf Call by ELK Inc. and the Alpha Wolf Howler by Bugling Bull Game Calls to be the superior choices. These howlers were built from the ground up to produce the eerie, deep howls of a wolf and is truly awesome for locating and calling in wolves.
This unique aspect of wolf hunting is something that makes it so exciting. Be warned though, the eerie howl of a lone wolf can raise the hair on even the burliest of men’s necks. If you choose this method, you may want to bring a buddy along.
Calling predators is somewhat of an art, and there are many opinions on the subject. You don’t have to pick just one type of call to use. Some times a variation works best. You might start out with a howl to locate a wolf. Then you might use a cow elk call to lure it in. If that doesn’t work you might switch to a rabbit squall, and to lure it in that last hundred yards to get a closer shot you might try a squeaker. Experiment and you’ll find out what works for you.
Guns and Gear
Once you’ve picked up some calls, there’s a few other things that can up your odds of a successful hunt. This is a by no means a comprehensive list of everything you might need, but it is a few of the things I feel are necessities.
Wolves make a living off their keen eyesight, and your blue jeans will stick out like a PETA member in a butcher shop. You can never have too much camo and I recommend a face mask, gloves, and even camo tape or a paint job for your rifle. Also, try and make sure your camo matches the terrain. For the longest time, all the camo that was available was Mossy Oak and Realtree variations made for the heavily wooded forests of the south and Midwest. In Idaho and Montana, there aren’t forests like that. Where you’ll find wolves is going to be in heavy pine forests or in sagebrush. For all of the out-of-staters, sagebrush is the lovely scrub that covers most of the state of Idaho and a good portion of Montana. Finally, companies are starting to make some quality camo for western terrain. Some of the best I’ve found for hunting are the Seclusion 3D patterns offered by Cabelas. If you don’t have these patterns, that’s ok. Any camo is better than no camo.
Bi-Pods or Shooting Stix
Because you’re going to be sitting most of the time for calling wolves, a good bipod or set of shooting stix is recommended. You won’t be moving around much and a solid rest helps ensure a well placed shot for a clean kill. If you get a bipod, pick up one that pivots and has extendable legs. This offers more versatility for shooting on uneven terrain. The solid types, make it hard to position your rifle without moving. A cheaper option is a set of shooting stix, if you go this route you can make your own out of wood dowels. You want the stix to be tall enough that you can comfortable shoot your rifle while sitting Indian style, or flat on your bottom.
A good set of binoculars hanging from your neck can really help out. You can spot a wolf coming in from much farther away and you don’t have to move your hands very much to use them. The scope on your rifle will do the same thing, but you have to pick it up and swing it around, and may well generate enough motion to scare away a prospective wolf.
A Flat Shooting Rifle
The game regulations in Idaho and Montana only state that you can’t use a rimfire rifle on wolves. That means just about anything else you have is legal, but before you head out with your favorite coyote rifle keep in mind a big Alpha male gray wolf can weigh 150 lbs! I personally would not be comfortable shooting a wolf with a small caliber like a .22 Hornet, .204 Ruger, 17 Remington, or even a .223. I know all of these popular calibers are probably quite cable of killing a wolf with a well placed shot, but at distances over 300 yards these cartridges might not be up to the challenge and if you use one, be prepared for a follow up shot. Larger varmint calibers like the 22/250, 220 Swift, or .243 are probably a better choice and certainly your deer or elk rifle will do the trick.
Picking a Stand
Picking a good stand to call from is critical. Wolves have keen eye sight, and an even keener sense of smell. When choosing a stand you need to take this into account and pick a spot that will put you down wind of the wolves when they come in, yet give you good visibility of the area in front of you. Draws, dry creek beds, canyons, and other features in the terrain can help you predict the path a wolf will take when responding to a call. Position yourself in a place where you have a clear view upwind, but where you can also see downwind. Gullies and saddles make good stands to call from because they give a wolf an easy path to follow. Brush and trees at the bottom of the gully or saddle give the wolf cover while is moving, so it feels protected and will come in at a faster pace. You should pick a high spot in the terrain so you a have a good view. Wolves can hear calls from over a mile away, so the farther you can see the better chance you’ll have of spotting a wolf on its way. This will give you more time to prepare for a shot and also lets you see how the wolf is reacting to your calls. Other things to keep in mind when picking a stand are to look for sufficient cover. You want to break up your outline, and preferably be able to hunker up against a tree or a bush Shaded areas are also a plus because you don’t have to worry about the glare of the sun reflecting off your scope or rifle barrel. The best time of day to get setup in your stand is early morning just before the sun comes up or later in the evening because wolves are most active at night.
How to Call
Once you’ve chosen your stand, sit down and position your rifle in a way that gives you the widest shooting window with the least amount of movement. Once it’s positioned try to move as little as possible. Allow 5-10 minutes for a calm down period before your start calling. When I’m up against a pine tree or sagebrush I like to grab a handful of needles or sage and kind of grind it up in my hand while I’m waiting. This release a pungent natural odor that helps cover the human scent.
If you choose to start off with a howl, and quickly get a response back, you may want to just continue howling. If the responses sound like they’re getting closer keep it up. If they don’t, or you didn’t choose to howl at all, it may be time to use a game call like an elk or rabbit. For rabbit calls, its good to call aggressively at first for 1-2 minutes at a time and then lay off for a few minutes. Repeat this process and continue even if you see a wolf coming in from a long distance. When a wolf gets with in a few hundred yards, simply squeaking with your lips may be all it takes to lure it in. If the wolf is looking your way, try not to move at all. As soon as the wolf is in a range that your comfortable shooting, take the shot. The closer the wolf gets the more likely it is to pick up your scent or see you. If you miss the shot, a bark or a quick howl will sometimes stop the wolf long enough for a second shot. Miss again and your probably out of luck. If you do take a wolf in the first shot and your hunting with a buddy that has a tag too, don’t jump up just yet. Making a yip or whining sound like a hurt pup will likely bring other members of the pack that are close by running and your buddy will get a chance to harvest a wolf too.
Patience is key with wolf hunting, so don’t expect to plop down on a hill 5 minutes from a well traveled road and call for 10 minutes and get a wolf. Wolves are extremely cautious and they also might be coming from a mile or more away. It pays to wait and calling for 30 minute to an hour or more can pay off. Remember, as soon as you stand up, your probably going to scare anything that was coming in away, and if you would have waited 5 or 10 minutes longer you might have seen that wolf coming over the hill. It might take a few times, but if you bring the right gear, use the right rifle, and try out some of the calling techniques listed above you’ve got a great chance at getting a new wolf skin rug.
Ready to go Wolf Hunting Now? Make Sure You Pick up one of these: