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.