ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How do Wolves Hunt?

Updated on September 7, 2012

An Iconic Sound

The howl of a Wolf is a sound that virtually every human being can recognise.
The howl of a Wolf is a sound that virtually every human being can recognise. | Source

Introduction

Humans have always admired the wolf’s prowess as a hunter, often going as far to consider them to be the finest and most successful of all hunters, even when in direct competition for food. Humans, throughout history have also been acutely aware of the wolf’s awesome strength and power. These wonderful creatures have been known to track their quarry for up to 100 miles a day, and successfully bring down prey up to 10 times larger than themselves. Thanks to painstaking work carried out by behavioural experts, we now have a fascinating insight into what actually happens before, during and after a kill. We also now know a great deal about the amount of collective skill and cooperation that is required to carry out a successful hunt as a pack.

Tactics of the Hunt

Team Building

For the wolf, a successful hunt depends largely on making careful preparations before the hunt. Individuals constantly revise their skills, as well as practicing and refining their techniques so that every member is more than ready to play their part when required.

A typical wolf pack will contain a number of individuals that specialise in certain areas, such as pup rearing and hunting. The specialist hunters are usually female; this is because they are roughly 25 per cent smaller than the males, meaning that they are much faster and agile than the bulkier males. There are often a couple of wolves within the pack that are capable of sprinting like a greyhound, reaching speeds fast enough to either catch or force their prey into an ambush. Usually, the hunter will not be the alpha or breeding female, as the risk of injury for a hunter is high, and the alpha is far too valuable to the survival of the pack. She will, however, keep a close eye on proceedings from the sidelines and ensure that the lower ranked wolves remain disciplined during the hunt. This is often a very difficult, so she will often initiate practice sessions before a hunt to drill the discipline home.

Nowadays, the term alpha when used in wolf circles is a misnomer, as it often implies dominance. The alpha wolves in a pack do not dominate other individuals in any sort of coercive sense. Instead, they simply enjoy the greatest amount of social freedom in the pack, by never having to submit to anyone and of course enjoying the privilege of being the only two individuals permitted to breed.

The practice sessions are initiated by the alpha female who excretes an odour which informs the pack of which way to turn. She uses her body to push them either to one side or the other. Then, she will select exactly what prey will be hunted, usually using the seasons as a gauge to make the appropriate choice. For instance, in the winter, a large animal with a high fat content, such as bison and elk will be chosen, whilst the summer is reserved for smaller animals such as mountain goats and young deer. She makes her choice by digging up some cached food, which was probably deliberately buried for use in the training sessions. In the summer, she’ll often bury food around lakes or ponds, where the cool mud just above the waterline acts as a natural refrigerator.

Having shown the hunters and the rest of the pack which food she wants them to hunt, she proceeds to demonstrate the movements that the prey animal would make before being chased. She normally does this while carrying the food morsel in her mouth. The alpha male will be allowed to take the food from her and act as if to defend it, showing that he now has control, effectively simulating a real hunt. Once he has control, then the pack begins to feed.

Occasionally a wolf will opt to hunt alone, but is usually far more cautious and rarely hunts anything bigger than a rabbit. Usually they will catch creatures such as rodents and birds, and occasionally will compete with bears for fish during the salmon season.

Wolves vs. Elk

This elk stag looks doomed as four wolves close in on him.
This elk stag looks doomed as four wolves close in on him. | Source

Closing in

This bison has probably been driven to exhaustion by the efforts of the wolf pack.
This bison has probably been driven to exhaustion by the efforts of the wolf pack. | Source

On the Trail

Wolves, like all members of the canine family have an exceptional sense of smell. The domestic version of the wolf that brings love and joy to millions around the world possesses a sense of smell ten thousand times more sensitive than ours, and although it has yet to be scientifically verified, it’s thought that the wolf’s sense of smell surpasses its domestic counterpart. Some scientists even go as far as suggesting that the wolf’s sense of smell may be one hundred thousand times greater than ours. They’re capable of detecting potential prey at a distance of 2 miles if the wind is with them.

When wolves track an animal, they follow the scent of the animal’s hoof-prints, urine and droppings. They can also smell any hair, skin, particles or parasites in its tracks. They cannot visually track footprints like we can; of all the creatures on Earth only we can track in this way. But the wolf doesn't need that skill, for their sense of smell more than compensates for it. They can even smell the tooth decay of an old animal. Indeed, their information processing skills are complex enough to allow them to gauge whether the prey is in poor health, old or injured, and even how far ahead it is.

A successful hunt requires various techniques depending on the size of the quarry. For instance, wolves will stalk slowly in long grass when targeting a smaller animal; they also employ ambush tactics to catch smaller, faster prey. During such an ambush, the pack splits into two or more groups, and one will pursue the animal towards the remaining pack members, usually hidden away, using the trees and bushes as effective camouflage. Wolves have even been observed picking up snow in their mouths, so that their breath remains invisible to their prey. Once the prey is caught, usually a bite to the neck and a few shakes is enough to kill the animal.

Another technique used is intimidation. The pack will single out their prey and try to force it to run, this may sound counter intuitive, but an animal with large hooves or horns is less dangerous when moving away from them, rather than standing its ground. Wolves have been recorded reaching a top speed of 40 miles an hour, and if required can maintain this sort of pace for an hour, they are truly one of nature’s greatest endurance athletes. When chasing a large ungulate, such as elk or moose, they can continuously harry and pester their quarry enough to deny them food, water, rest and security for up to a fortnight. The wolves wound and gradually weaken the animal by snapping at its flanks from time to time, the result being that the large herbivore will eventually give in due to blood loss and exhaustion.

Defending Your Prize

Brown Bears will frequently try to steal a kill from a wolf pack. But as you can see, they are quite prepared to defend their prize.
Brown Bears will frequently try to steal a kill from a wolf pack. But as you can see, they are quite prepared to defend their prize. | Source

The Spoils of the Hunt

Contrary to popular thinking, the alpha wolves do not feast first, instead they use the beta wolves to control who gets what.
Contrary to popular thinking, the alpha wolves do not feast first, instead they use the beta wolves to control who gets what. | Source

Success

Once the prey has been killed, the pack feeds in an orderly and disciplined manner. Thought it may surprise you, the alphas don’t always feed first, but they do control exactly what each wolf eats and when. The betas, the rank below the alphas are usually made up of the largest wolves and act as enforcers in the aftermath of a kill, and are rewarded for their deeds by helping themselves to more food than lower ranked individuals.

An individual wolf can consume up to 20 pounds of meat in a single sitting, it sounds a lot, but it’s important that the wolves gorge themselves in this way, as it could be days or even weeks before their next substantial meal. If they have the good fortune of having more food that they can eat, then they will bury it and mark the spot with urine in order to be able to locate it when food does become scarce.

Once feeding has finished the wolves indulge in play and grooming to reinforce bonds that may have been tested during the highly tense and risky hunt. Wolves, on average only make a kill in one out of every ten hunts. This is in stark contrast to their relatives in Africa, the African hunting dog that makes a kill in eight out of every ten hunts, marking them out as one of the most successful hunters in the world. After reinforcing and renewing strained bonds, the wolves will take the opportunity to rest in order to aid the digestive process. However, their alertness never dwindles, and if they need to flee for whatever reason then they can. If this happens, then the wolf will regurgitate its food, as running on a full stomach slows them down, as well causing them discomfort.

After the hunt and feast, the pack will howl to protect their hard earned meal from other predators, including bears. Once they've had their full, they will abandon what’s left, leaving it to scavengers such as ravens, eagles, foxes and coyotes.

© 2012 James Kenny

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      KatrineDalMonte 5 years ago

      James this hub is packed with so much great information. Recently I was watching Attenborough's documentaries about wolves, they truly are interesting animals. You have captured it so well here. Accompanied by wonderful photos and videos. Well done.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Katrine, thanks very much for your kind words. I watched the Attenborough videos before I posted them, and I was totally enthralled. Thanks once again for dropping by. Take care.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      "There are often a couple of wolves within the pack that are capable of sprinting like a greyhound, reaching speeds fast enough to either catch or force their prey into an ambush." - This is very true, ambush is often a good way to catch dinner because it provides the element of surprise, which is always helpful when hunting.

      "Instead, they simply enjoy the greatest amount of social freedom in the pack, by never having to submit to anyone and of course enjoying the privilege of being the only two individuals permitted to breed." - Thank You for explaining this part. It is important to understand I think because indeed wolves work as a team.

      The photograph of the wolves chasing the bison is priceless ...

      Your article brought me smiles. Thank You for putting it together. May Wakan Tanka walk with You. Cheers!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      I have seen a wolf running a deer on the highway, it's not a pretty sight. I felt bad for the deer. I know the wolf has to eat but I just don't like watching it.

      Interesting reading. Voted up.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks very much for your kind words Mr. Happy, and thank you very much for the follow. I love your avatar by the way, the white wolf, ultimate symbol of the wild.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I know, it can be distressing watching any predator tackling their prey. I normally try not to think about it, but I remember seeing a wildebeest, trying to escape from a crocodile, it was so close, but once a croc gets hold, then there's no escape, that made me feel a little sick. But, the croc has to eat as well. Thanks for dropping by, moonlake.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Oh how I'd love to see a wolf in the wild. They should be living in my area - but they are gone.

      We do have overly large coyotes though - and there is quite a bit of debate as to whether red wolves are really a unique species - or the simple result of coyotes and grey wolves having mated.

      Then there are the coyotes that have mated with these red wolves - and those are what live outside my door. I haven't heard them in a couple weeks, but then again it can be annoying or frightening to hear them seemingly just outside the window, and ....gosh it can sound like there are a hundred of them out there, and I'm surrounded.

      The Mexican Grey Wolves and the red wolves both are smaller than the "regular" Gray Wolves....then there are Arctic Wolves....

      Oh man - I've no sympathy for crocodiles....I just hope to never ever see one. I keep on hearing about alligators in my general neighborhood though. I don't want to see one of those either - certainly not as a surprise.

      I'd better make coffee...I'm rambling.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yeah, I'd love to have wolves in my area as well, but there haven't been any in Britain for centuries. Hopefully, things will change soon, because Scotland could do with a few to control the deer numbers.

      I sometimes hear foxes barking in the night and that can be pretty freaky, because it sounds like somebody screaming.

      I've only ever seen crocodiles and alligators in a zoo, so I can't imagine what it would be like to actually to live alongside them, probably bloody terrifying. The ones in the zoo were scary enough. Thanks for visiting Wesman, enjoy your coffee.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      AH! Now you've got me interested.

      Years ago I literally had a drug and creature induced nervous breakdown. I've heard some truly bizarre and scary screams off in the distance...in the direction of a dilapidated old farmhouse that hasn't been inhabited in probably 50 years...and then there is a cabin in the woods not too far from it.

      I never had much of a clue as to what produced the sounds - but they literally drove me sort of nuts. I was imagining my neighborhood was full of killers or something. Or maybe there were some sort of ghosts about from long ago in those old buildings just out of site .

      I've heard people say that peacocks make those noises. I know cougars do some screaming, and of course there are foxes.

      Sorry, JKenny, for leaving such weird comments.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Haha! It's alright Wesman, I've had many a sleepless night camping out listening to screaming foxes and hooting owls. You can understand where all those old ghost stories came from.

    • sharonchristy profile image

      Sharon Christy 5 years ago from India

      You've said it in a very lively and charming fashion, but wolves are horrible to watch or to hear about, they are associated with ill omens, here, in India, after I had read Bram Stoker's Dracula and the street dogs howled at night, I spent so many sleepless, disturbed and frenzied nights. Hate wolves, the way they gorge is awful, but you've given facts with an ardour for wildlife, and I loved your article. Beautiful! Do you write poems?

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi sharon, I appreciate you telling me about your experiences with wolves. It's difficult for me to understand because I never even seen a wolf in the wild. I don't really write a lot of poems, I tend to write more non fictional hubs, but sometimes I'll indulge in a little creative writing.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Wow, there is so much great information here James!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks very much for your kind words, Christy. I really appreciate you taking the time to drop by.

    • dappledesigns profile image

      dappledesigns 5 years ago from In Limbo between New England and the Midwest

      absolutely amazing how precise and organized they are... even right down to practicing before the real event. It's amazing how they each have a job, and they work as a team to accomplish their task. I am just fascinated by wolves and if you study a pack closely for a good amount of time, you will see each individual personality.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks dappledesigns. I think wolves are among the most intelligent creatures on the planet, probably why we and the domestic dog make such a great team. I was genuinely astonished when I learnt that they actually practised hunting, because that shows evidence of forward planning. Awesome. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 5 years ago from Michigan, United States

      Wolves are one of my favorite animals of the wild. I loved how much information is packed in this hub, excellent writing. Their sense of smell is fascinating, even being able to sense the health of its prey, that's insane. Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. Great hub, keep up the great work JKenny (:

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I know Olde Cashmere, they have to be among the coolest animals on the planet. I always call my Jack Russell a wolf, even though she's really called Tess. Its awesome to think that I actually share my home with a wolf, albeit the domesticated version. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Excellent and informative hub. My granddaughter loves wolves, has a large collection of wolf items in her room and even has a wolf she adopted via an organization. She refers to herself as 'Wolf Girl' and I've written a hub dedicated to her and her passion. It's a book review called: The Wolves.

      I'd like to link this hub with my wolf hub if I may?

      Voted up and interesting.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Denise, thanks for dropping by. Your granddaughter sounds like a girl after my own heart. Your hub sounds very interesting, and you're more than welcome to link my hub with it. Thanks once again.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      JKenny: This is really an interesting and fascinating article. I really enjoyed reading this as my maiden name was Wolf. I like to think I have all the positive attributes of a wolf. LOL. Who knows? May be I was a wolf in another life. LOL. Anyway, great hub! Very well researched.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for stopping by Suzette. I'd love to be reincarnated as a wolf, it'd be so cool to experience their life and live in their society, awesome. Thanks once again, take care.

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

      What a beautiful Hub - I mean really, does it get much better than a wolf? Even if they can be a little savage when they eat. Where are their manners? :P

      You presented this information wonderfully in an easy to read format and the photos you chose are great! The bear walking away from the wolf - I never would have guessed.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you for your kind words, Ardie. I really enjoyed putting this hub together. I know what you mean about their manners, my own little wolf is just the same. I'll admit that seeing a bear walking away from a wolf is weird, but I guess it's a testament to the value of teamwork.

    • pateluday profile image

      Uday Patel 5 years ago from Jabalpur, MP, India

      In India the wolves are extremely scare. I recently went to Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary 114 km from my hometown. I went as a guide but we could not trace the wolf... more tries will be needed this was my 3rd (short) visit. The sanctuary brochure highlights wolf as indicator species of Nauradehi.

      Indian wolf lives in smaller packs and hunts small deer, hares other small game. Some work has been done in India on wolf. May be my future trips to Nauradehi will be a learning experience.

      Wolves have also been sighted at Pench Tiger Reserve in MP. I saw my first wolf on road to Kanha Tiger Reserve.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi patel, I honestly had no idea that wolves still lived in India, so thanks very much for the info, its nice to know that 'Akela' still survives today. Thanks very much for dropping by.

    • pateluday profile image

      Uday Patel 5 years ago from Jabalpur, MP, India

      Estimated population of wolf in India is 2000 to 3000 animals.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Ah right! Thanks for that Patel, much appreciated.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Interesting hub about how wolves organize their activities.Fairly recent DNA has somewhat changed our thinking on wolves and dogs. Dogs that were often thought to be closest to wolf ancestors are found to be not so close after all. People often think my Siberian Husky is part Wolf have probably never seen a real wolf. But they are genetically related.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi dahoglund, it is interesting what DNA can tell us isn't it! In the past, people often used wolves as models on how they should treat their dog. Problem is that the wolves used were all captive bred, as many had never seen a wild one. There's still much to learn about their relationship. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      i live in SF. coyotes are making a come-back. good article.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Mhatter, glad you liked it. I'm really glad to hear that coyotes are doing well near you, just need the wolves to return now. Thanks for popping by.

    • profile image

      lilly 4 years ago

      this is good

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Lilly, glad you liked it.

    • profile image

      kiana 4 years ago

      I am 9 years old and I am doing a report

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      That's great Kiana.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I haven't Shannon, but I'll certainly check it out. Thanks!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Okay will do!

    • Jmillis2006 profile image

      Jmillis2006 4 years ago from North Carolina

      I be always had a fascination with wolves ever since I was in middle school. They are intelligent and beautiful animals, you gave lots of great information and I enjoyed you hub.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much for popping by. Appreciate it. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • Willsummerdreamer profile image

      Will English. 4 years ago from Marietta, Georgia.

      Fascinating read. Wolves are one of my favorite animals. good hub. *voted up*.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much. Glad you liked it!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      I am a letter carrier, and I have seen Chihuahuas, which are really wolves in miniature, hunt in wolflike fashion. Once a three dog pack of these miniature wolves surrounded me in a circle, making escape impossible without trampling one of them. Luckily the dogs' owner finally came out and called them off. Hunting in this fashion seems to be something deeply ingrained in dog instinct, no matter how big the dogs are.

    • Jordan Hake profile image

      Jordan Hake 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri, USA

      Fascinating article, very well researched and informative. As you pointed out in your hub, it's strange how many people mistake "alpha" for being bossy!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Wow! Thanks for that! It's fascinating to think, that despite all that we've done, dogs are still for all intents and purpose wolves. Thanks for popping by.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Jordan, to be fair I used to make that same mistake too, but with research I found out that wasn't the case at all. In fact that mistake has led to people attempting to train dogs in an inappropriate way, by trying to domineer the dog, rather than simply accept them.

    • profile image

      teejay 3 years ago

      awesome information for my project

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      No problem, glad to be of service.

    • profile image

      Tosciano 2 years ago

      So hello, I am looking for when then do the alphas feed?

    • profile image

      teejay 2 years ago

      good info

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 20 months ago from SW England

      I find wolves fascinating, mostly because of the bonds in the pack. I'm surprised I haven't read this already as I notice it's been here for 3 years! It was added to one of my hubs so thought I'd pop over to have a look. Great hub.

      Hope all's well with you!

      Ann

    Click to Rate This Article