By Robert Hanneman
Wolves have been a very volatile issue in the West over the last 2 decades. With a decline in the number of big game animals and all of the loss of domestic animals, you can see why many people get so upset when Wolves are brought up. I have lived in western Montana for the last 14 years and have personally seen what Wolves are capable of doing. The Wolf is the ultimate predator, and if you don’t believe me, look at the statistics on how many elk and moose are left in the core Wolf areas. Wolves are here to stay. No matter how many are hunted or trapped, we could never get rid of the species. Wolves were reintroduced to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, but now there are confirmed packs in Oregon and Washington. It will only be a matter of time before Wolf packs relocate to the other surrounding states that have healthy big game populations.
Living in western Montana I have had the opportunity to hunt Wolves in Montana and Idaho, since these states started the modern Wolf seasons. I have spent many days afield in both states and feel that any hunter willing to put in the time will have an opportunity at harvesting a Wolf. The first thing you need to realize is that hunter success on taking Wolves in either state is under 5%. The best advice I can give you is to not give up or get discouraged and take the first good shot you get!
Depending on the time of year, I use many different tactics for hunting Wolves. Living only 45 minutes from the Lolo Wolf zone in Idaho gives me a lot of opportunities. The Lolo zone season runs from August 30-June 30, so I have 10 months to chase Wolves. The Montana season runs from September 15-March 15. I usually am busy on big game hunts from September through November, so Wolves get put on the back burner, but I always have a tag in my pocket just in case I run into one.
In the spring you will find me running a few bear baits in Idaho in prime Wolf country. In the state of Idaho a Wolf may be harvested off bear bait. I still have not had a Wolf near any of my baits, but while I am bear hunting I am always looking for fresh Wolf sign. A thing to remember is that Wolves are like us and they use the easiest path to travel through the country. If you do find areas where Wolves have spent a lot of time, then note these areas as places to check in the future. This time of year I will try predator calling using a calf elk distress call, and I use a Wolf howl to try to locate Wolves in the morning and evening.
December through March is my favorite time to hunt Wolves. I feel that this is the best time to be in the woods if you want to be successful in putting your tag on a Wolf. You have a lot of things going for you this time of year. All of the deer and elk hunters are out of the woods, so you have the whole place to yourself. Next, the elk have moved into large groups and are now on the winter range with the Wolves close behind them. This time of year you should also have snow on the ground, which makes tracking a Wolf pack a lot easier.
A typical day this time of year will have me glassing big groups of wintering elk, looking for Wolves. Just pay attention to the elk as they will let you know when Wolves are in the area. If I have not seen any Wolf activity around the elk, I will start running roads looking for fresh Wolf sign in the snow. If I find fresh tracks, I follow them. When I feel that I am within earshot I will howl to see if I get a response. If I do, I try not to over call. If they bark, I will bark, and if they howl, I will howl. Be patient as you may be calling back and forth for hours before you get an opportunity. I have tried a lot of the different Wolf calls on the market, and the one I use is the Wolf Howler call made by ELK, INC. located in Gardiner, Montana.
February is breeding season, and the Wolves become extremely territorial, not only to other Wolves but also to any type of dog. Unfortunately this lesson is learned the hard way. Many hound hunters in Montana and Idaho have lost their lion dogs to Wolves. The hunters would turn out on a fresh lion track, and at some point the Wolves would hear the dogs during the chase or at the tree. No hound has any chance against a pack of Wolves. Therefore, in February, you will find me in Montana with a Fox Pro electric game caller playing baying hounds in any drainage that has Wolf sign. No one has ever tried this before in Montana due to it being illegal until this year. If you can find a Wolf pack in February, keep the wind right, and have your Fox Pro playing baying hounds, you will have an exciting time. If you are calling, make sure you have a low powered scope as things happen fast and most shots are close.
Wolf hunting is tough, so be physically and mentally prepared. There is a good chance you could be the only person in the area you are hunting, so go prepared for anything. If you are planning on traveling to the northwest to hunt Wolves, I would recommend that you go in February due to the Wolves being so active. I would also recommend having two or three tags in your pocket because when things go your way and you get into the Wolves you usually get multiple shots. Do the big game populations a favor and harvest a couple of Wolves this winter. Good luck!