If we are ever to consider “catching” a wolf, we need first to understand it. This has become a difficult task, especially here in the United States because most who advocate for wolves, seemingly those with all the money and resources to do so, aren’t at all interested in telling the truth about this animal. Why is it that in efforts to discover the truth about this large and sometimes vicious predator, advocates mount bigger campaigns to counter those truths with lies, information designed to mislead the public?
In the West we love our stories about Nikki: Dog of the North and Jack London’s other creation of Call of the Wild. In our romantic fantasies we want to be friends with canines that are portrayed as our best friends, cute and cuddly. The reality is wolves are none of these and there are many other myths that we have been programmed to believe as true.
Most of us will never see a wolf in the wild. Most of us will never have a desire to “catch” a wolf. Some of us are going to be forced to at some point and hopefully we’ll never reach the degree of problems our ancestors faced all around the globe, the result of which was lack of wildlife management and the taking away of the God-given rights of people to self protection.
In the previous four parts in this series (see links above) we have traveled across parts of North American, Russia, France, Italy and made mention of other countries that historically have faced wolf problems. We now are going to travel to Scandinavia where we will take a look at two aspects of the wolves there – attacks on humans and methods used to kill wolves.
No matter where we traveled, we found out that wolves vary in sizes and color. We know that the characteristics of wolves also vary depending on several factors, including habitat, time of year and the influences of climate, to name a few.
One thing that I have discovered in reading the many accounts of wolves and hunting wolves is that often what and how the writer conveyed their message depended a great deal on their own experiences and perceptions of the events at hand. Let me give an example.
Scandinavian Adventures by Llewelyn Lloyd was written in 1854. It contains numerous accounts of wolf/human encounters and detailed descriptions of wolf habits and of course methods on how the people in Scandinavia captured and/or killed the beast they so much hated.
I chuckled at one point and then read on with my jaw agape, when Lloyd wrote that wolves seldom attack people.
Though wolves are so numerous in Scandinavia, and commit such considerable ravages amongst cattle, they do not often molest man.
I will concur here with Lloyd’s statement that wolves were numerous during this time in Scandinavia, having to this point already read what seems an unending accounting of the savage events involving wolves in this country and the destruction of private property.
After stating that wolves “do not often molest man”, Lloyd fills many pages documenting several of at least 20 accounts of wolves killing humans just during one winter. This doesn’t account for the attacks on humans that didn’t result in death.
I would assume we need to conclude that it is all relative as to what we become accustomed to in our everyday lives. That one man can so boldly state that wolves seldom attack man, yet view the deaths of at least 20 people, mostly children, as somehow insignificant, certainly baffles my mind but I’ve never had to live with wolves on a daily basis. In all of North America we struggle to accept the death of one man in Canada a couple years ago.
As with all the other countries we’ve visited, Lloyd tells us that the wolf is despised in Scandinavia too. He states that from the beginning of time, wolves have been hated and that they were the “plague and torment of the land”.
The Scandinavian wolf is characterized as having a “most ravenous appetite” and at times when food is not available to the wolf, he will actually ingest dirt and mud in order to quell the hunger pains. If all goes well, he will regurgitate the mud once he has killed prey to eat. The author tells us of instances when a wolf howls incessantly from the pain caused by eating and puking up the dirt.
“He can suffer hunger and hardships for a long time, which is common for beasts of prey, according to the Creator’s wise institution; for their provision is uncertain, and comes accidentally, and at irregular intervals. When his hunger becomes too great, he’ll eat clay if it is to be had; and this, as it is not to be digested, remains in his belly till he gets flesh, and that works it off violently; and then he is heard to howl most dismally for pain;
One farmer who killed a wolf, opened the animal’s stomach up to see what it had been eating and found it full of moss and the tops of birch trees.
Lloyd tells us that Scandinavia is “exempt from rabies”. I can’t confirm that to actually be the case but he is quite convinced there were never any cases of rabies recorded at least up until this time in history. Part of the reason for bringing this up is that in his list of wolf encounters, all occurred with what appear to be healthy animals. This dispels the myth that only diseased wolves will attack a human.
Like with all the other accounts we’ve examined, wolves in Scandinavia are most dangerous during the long winter months, when food is scare and the animals run in very large packs. People traveled most often by sleigh or horse and during these times some where allowed to have guns for protection as it was common for packs of wolves to attack and follow the travelers.
The author tells readers that when the wolf is hungry and in packs, they seem not afraid of anything, boldly entering barns and enclosed pastures taking whatever they wanted, sometimes barely reacting to the beating by farmers with clubs, sticks and rocks.
The story here gives us an indication of excess killing. In modern times, at least here in North America, we have coined the term “surplus killing” to characterize the act of wolves killing far more prey than they ever intend to eat.
The wolf is amongst the most voracious of beasts. The slaughter he commits in the fold is at times terrible; and he frequently kills ten times more than he can devour. Hence it would appear, he is impelled rather by a mere love of destroying, than by hunger.
I read recently the account of one wildlife biologist who said that surplus killing did occur with wolves and domestic animals but rarely happened with wild animals, particularly large game animals. Even though I have had the opportunity to read accounts of and view pictures of what seem to show surplus killings of deer and elk by wolves, biologists, for whatever their motives, seem quick to come to the rescue of the wolf and state that it may appear the wolves killed needlessly but will return at a later date and clean up the mess. This brings the discussion to one that now becomes quite subjective. If a pack of wolves during one attack session kills 20 elk and then leaves without eating any of them, one can argue that the wolves will return to clean up later, yet we have no way of knowing that.
I find it a tough pill to swallow that wolves will only “surplus kill” domestic animals and not wild ones. The game manager making the statement backed his theory by saying that most livestock have had all sense of fighting back bred out of them. I have never witnessed alive any attack by wolves on deer and elk, but in most of the video I’ve seen, the deer and elk aren’t fighting back. They may run and stand their ground for a time but are soon outnumbered or worn down to defeat.
I can concur that it would appear much easier, if I were a wolf, to enter an enclosed area housing 100 sheep and killing them all, than to run down and kill 100 elk or deer. This doesn’t however dispel the idea that wolves do not “surplus kill” elk and deer. The task may be more difficult but the voraciousness of the wolf is on display no matter what animal it is attempting to kill. If a pack kills any number of game animals they don’t consume or haul away, we can say there was surplus killing.
The landscape of much of Scandinavia provided excellent habitat for wolves and as a result, there were many to contend with. The habitat also prevented hunting the wolf in what is referred to as a common method – using dogs and people to drive wolves out of the thick forests into openings or fields where the wolves could be shot. There were just too many intermingled, dense forests where wolves could essentially hide forever. This brought extra challenges upon the citizenry to protect themselves and devise other means of killing wolves and killing as many as they could all at once.
The presence of wolves was an extreme burden on the people. It is described in some places as being the most difficult thing in life to deal with. Here in the West we think stories like Little Red Riding Hood were created from some fairy tale dreamed up by a fanciful writer.
Not only do our children’s books relate some of the experiences people had years ago, the angst and outright hatred that grew toward the wolf had people believing the the wolf was an incarnation of Satan himself. As backwards as this may seem to the modern West, we’ve never really had to deal with anything so frightful and controlling, with the dominance of a vicious predator. It was as bad or even worse than any plague.
The people persevered and one way that helped was the creation of devises and methods to catch, trap and kill wolves. In the northern areas of Scandinavia, the Lapps often strapped on their skis, or skidor they were called, armed themselves with a 12-foot long pointed spear and headed into areas thought to have wolves.
The conditions needed to be right so that the snow was such that wolves couldn’t run away and yet the hunters could remain on top of the snow with their skis and navigate to where the wolves were, spearing them to death. A good downhill run seemed a good opportunity.
Sooner or later, however, he is necessitated to quit the ” vantage-ground,” and betake himself once more to the forest or the fjall, as the case may be. Thus the chase may continue for a day or two, until the beast is fairly worn out with hunger and fatigue, when his pursuers are enabled to close with him—generally on the long slope of a hill—and to put an end to his miseries and his life.
Seldom would enough wolves be killed to have any real affect on limiting the wolf kills on the reindeer herds. However, under the right conditions, there is a recorded event of around 70 wolves being killed in one week using this method of skis and spears.
As I mentioned earlier, hunting wolves by foot or horseback in the “traditional” manner was quite ineffective. Lloyd explains it this way.
Little in the shape of wolf-hunting—such at least as accords with our notions of hunting—is practised in Sweden; and that little is, from necessity, always followed on foot. From the difficult nature of the ground, and the peculiar style of fence, it would be quite an impossibility to pursue that beast on horseback.
And thus the most effective means to deal with wolf populations was devised – locate the dens and kill the cubs. Lloyd goes to great lengths offering advice on how best to locate the dens. As a bonus, hunters would set a trap for the she-wolf and kill it when it returned to the den area.
The she-wolf does not, like the fox, litter in deep holes in the ground, where it is difficult to get at the cubs; but under boulders, under the stumps of uprooted trunks, in close thickets, or beneath spruce-pine trees, the branches of which hang to the very ground; and for this reason, when the Lya is found, one can readily take and destroy the cubs.
“One of the number, however, should be retained alive, that by means of its cries the mother may be killed also. The object is best effected by erecting a screen of boughs, near to the lair, where two of the hunting party (the rest retiring to a distance) secrete themselves, and shoot her on her return home. This is hastened by the piteous lament of her offspring, who at some four feet from the ground, is suspended by the hind leg to a neighbouring tree. But the men, at such times, should face in opposite directions, so that one or the other will be sure to see her when she first makes her appearance, as she then comes much nearer to the ambush than afterwards.”
The event of locating wolf lyas (lairs) and destroying the cubs is a community-wide event employing large groups of people. A continued effort each year to do this seemed somewhat effective in keeping wolf populations in check.
Another method used by the Scandinavians, particularly in areas overrun with wolves was called a Skall-platser. Essentially, an area is located in which bait is deposited in great amounts over long periods of time. This often consisted of dead animals.
During the time of year, mostly winter, when the wolves were both hungry and packing together in larger numbers, hunters, numbering as high as 600 hundred would surround the baited area where no wolf could escape. Canine slaughter ensued.
During a period of about 7 years, it is recorded that 35 of these Skalls took place, resulting in the killing of over 200 wolves, including cubs. This may have been the most effective means of killing larger numbers of wolves at one time but I believe the most effective long term was killing the cubs and she-wolves. One of the problems with carrying out the Skalls was the expense and the time commitment in keeping the area baited.
Scandinavia also employed the use of live, squealing pigs on a winter sleigh to lure the wolves out while hunters riding the sleigh shot them. I covered this in more detail in Part I.
In all of the stories covered in this multi-part article, people resorted to the creation and use of traps. Most of them to catch an individual wolf but as we learned earlier, elaborate contraptions were designed to capture many wolves at one time.
While individual traps served the purpose of maybe taking care of one or two problem wolves that were killing livestock, it did virtually nothing to control wolf populations.
What we should have at least learned through all of this is that wolves are most difficult to “catch”. We read here in Scandinavia that the terrain and habitat was such that much of it was impossible to hunt on foot or horseback. In all the stories, the authors made no bones about the fact that wolf population controls had to be done on a consistent basis and the only way to accomplish this was with the use of hunting dogs. There was nothing very scientific about any of it. They knew there were too many wolves and no matter what they did, there were always too many wolves.
I’ve pointed out numerous times that as the United States readies itself for a rapidly expanding population of wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes, I have little confidence that we are prepared to handle the problem or at least take care of it in a timely matter.
Idaho, a state that is eager to get the federal government off its back and out of its state, has written up preliminary rules to govern wolf hunts. None of the rules allow for any of the methods I’ve described or provided for you from history past. I’m not advocating for the employment of these methods but we have to use history to teach us that a hunter alone with a gun is no good.
With a wolf population growing at a rate of near 30% in some places, sending a man and his rifle into the woods to kill a wolf will do nothing to stop or slow the rate of growth. With the proper management of wolves, it should be known whether the state wants to reduce, maintain or grow the wolf population in certain wildlife management areas. This is readily accomplished through the issuance of tags or quotas. When the quota is taken the hunt ends. If this be the case, then why put so many restrictions on the hunter? It really makes little sense?
We have areas now where the deer and elk are being killed by wolves at a rate that some fear is approaching or has surpassed recovery. Presently our hands are tied as wildlife managers are at the mercy of the federal government and having to be in compliance with an Endangered Species Act that has morphed into a political activists’ tool.
If the day comes when each state is granted permission to manage the wolf, we have to be ready, knowledgeable about the wolf and its habits and prepared to implement the necessary tools to accomplish the needed tasks.
I hope that this article and the other four parts can serve as a means of gaining a better, more truthful understanding of the wolf. Learning about the truth shouldn’t be something we fear. It is fought against only by those with hidden agendas.