Lessons from a First time Wolf Hunter.
Wolves. The mere word bolsters strong emotions on all ends of the spectrum. Everyone seems to have an opinion on them. I won’t get into any of that here. What I will say, is that hunting wolves is an opportunity to get out in the field and do something that for many generations hasn’t been available to sportsman in the lower 48. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity this year and here is what we learned as out-of-state hunters on our first wolf hunt.
Out West there are 2 options, Idaho and Montana. We chose Montana to hunt out of convenience (we had a place to stay) and the price of a tag was cheaper. Here are a few observations and lessons we learned.
First and foremost do your research. Hunting wolves is still controversial and it is VERY important you know all the laws and regulations and needed tags/licenses. Laws and regulations are ever changing and knowledge will help keep you out of trouble, but may also help with a successful hunt. For example, this year in Montana electronic calls were legal for the first time, without paying close attention to research we would have missed this. Research can also help pinpoint where you focus your efforts. Distribution and population maps are available from State fish and game departments and talking with local biologist is very helpful. We used these maps, our onXmaps app, and advice from the biologist to select the area we were going to hunt.
Needle in a Haystack
With only approximately 600 wolves in millions and millions of Montana acres I came to the realization that this was literally a needle-in-the-haystack scenario. Very few people I talked to hunted wolves. Most just bought tags in case the opportunity arose while out big game hunting. It is perceived as a tag of incidental opportunity, not of sole purpose.
This virtue is important in the moment and over time when wolf hunting. I don’t know the numbers but I am willing to bet that very few folks get themselves a wolf the first time out. In the moment hunting wolves tries your patience. There aren’t many out there so you spend a long time without seeing one. Luckily there are a lot of other creatures to look at like bears, deer, and elk, that make the glassing a little less painful. It may also take multiple trips over a period of time to see one let alone harvest one. Personally I am hooked now and expect to be persistent and hopefully bag one of nature’s supreme beasts in due time.
The season in Montana runs from September to March so there is plenty of time to get out. What we did was try to time some snow and elk migration with our hunt. In theory this sounded like a great idea and likely works depending on the right year but we found ourselves being buried under a heavy winter storm the Monday we arrived. No problem we thought, a few inches will get the elk moving through and help us see animals and tracks. It ended up snowing the better part of 3 days and then it got VERY cold. Snow was as deep as our knees and deeper in the higher country. All those “wolfy” looking areas on maps we wanted to explore were now out of reach because of the snow. Lesson here is Mother Nature may dish you a helping of weather you weren’t expecting.
Don’t forget to realize what other hunts are going on. We knew it was elk season and with Montana elk season so long we didn’t expect it to affect our wolf hunt much. We were very wrong. There were elk hunters everywhere we were trying to go. The snow added to this dilemma too. Snow meant migrating elk, which meant elk hunters showed up to intercept them. The elk hunters had the same problems with the snow as we did, it restricted where they could get and concentrated them as it did us. With so many people running around the hills I doubt wolves in the area were excited to show themselves.
These are just a few lessons we learned on our maiden voyage in pursuit of wolves. All in all it was quite the adventure and successful for a lot of reasons other than a harvest. On the final evening we finally glassed up a wolf. It was a long ways off and we hustled near where we had seen it, set up, and called right as the sun was going down, but he never showed again. I was just ecstatic to see my first wolf in the wild. And you can bet your boot leather I will be back!
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