If you are a dweller of the outdoors and the woods, it’s important to know exactly what to do in an emergency situation. While rare, wolf attacks do happen, and it’s vitally important to know how to survive a wolf attack in the wild.
Just like we read our pet dog’s body language while training, playing and protecting, the body language of a wolf can determine how you act and behave. And, just like dogs, each wolf is different with a diverse degree of aggressiveness.
Do not be too frightened, though, as thousands of people hike in wolf territory every year with almost no problems. However, it’s better to be prepared, just in case you do run into a wolf on the trail.
Different Reasons a Wolf Will Attack
Wolves will attack for different reasons. Some wolves will attack out of defense if you are too close to their pups or dens. Other wolves will attack if they feel cornered.
Wolves may also attack if they are injured and feel vulnerable. If you come across an injured wolf, do not approach the animal.
Some wolves in highly populated areas or infrequently visited parks become used to human presence, which increases the likelihood of an attack. Wolves who have become too comfortable around humans is called habituation. This behavior can lead to mixed social cues for the wolf, and lead to a wolf treating a human as one of the pack. This could mean that while a wolf is just trying to rough house or play, they are actually attacking a human.
Along the same lines, wolves may become used to humans feeding it. So, when a human does not feed a wolf, or does not have available food at their campsite, the wolf may react negatively and aggressively.
You can often see examples of habituation and food conditioning at national and state parks with squirrels. Squirrels will become so used to human presence, and they will approach humans with no fear and eat out of the palms of their hands. However, if you don’t give them food, they will steal your food from bags or aggressively nip at your ankles.
It is so essential to treat wild animals as they are; wild. Never treat wild animals as pets.
If you happen to run into a wolf on the trail, it is vital to prevent the attack itself.
Keep your head low and avoid eye contact with the wolf. Do not show your teeth, as this is a provoking gesture. Continue facing the wolf while slowly backing away, out of the wolf’s territory.
If you have a dog with you, bring your dog close to your side on their leash and stand in between the dog and wolf. Often, this will end the conflict right away.
If the wolf starts to advance on you, snarl, or lunge, begin to take on more aggressive behaviors such as appearing larger than you are by lifting your arms or even your backpack. If you have friends with you, stand together and make yourselves look as large as possible while yelling.
Make lots of noise by yelling, clapping your hands, or throwing large objects. Hiking with an air horn is always a must and will help scare the wolf away.
Do not bend down for too long (as it makes you appear small), and absolutely do not run!
If you know how to use it, you can use bear spray to stave off a wolf that gets too close. Try to keep the wolf at least 100 meters away from you; if the wolf is stepping forward, you need to back up.
Wolves can not climb trees, so consider climbing one if you can do so without turning your back to the wolf. While many preventative measures are similar to avoiding a bear attack, this one is different. Never climb a tree to avoid a bear.
Wolves are scared of fire and smoke, so if you can make a torch or fire at your site, do so to keep wolves away.
Before an attack is when watching the wolf’s body language is critical. If the wolf looks more threatening, the higher the chance of attacking. If you see the wolf relaxing while you move away, they may only be protecting a den and will not advance on you.
If your preventative measures fail and a wolf attacks you, your most crucial survival instinct should kick in, which is to fight back. Like a shark attack, aim for sensitive parts of the wolf such as eyes, nose, and low belly.
During an attack is the time to use the knife that you hike with. Make sure your knife or weapon is easily accessible at all times. For example, a knife sheathed on your waistband or backpack strap is an excellent place for easy access.
Be resourceful and use anything you can find. If you are hiking with trekking poles, these can be a great weapon. You can use rocks, sticks, or anything on the forest floor. Do not forget to use your feet in the fight and kick for the wolf’s belly if they have you pinned.
What Do I Do After a Wolf Attack?
For good practice, always keep an emergency kit in your daypack. If an attack happens by an animal and you can make it away, you may have bite marks you need to treat. Try to stop any bleeding by applying pressure and elevating the wound. With your emergency kit, clean the wound as much as possible and then cover the bite with a clean bandage.
If you cannot get back to your car, start signaling for help with your personal locator beacon or by using your whistle.
Once you are able, seek professional medical attention. You may need stitches, rabies prevention, or tetanus shots.
It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a coyote and a wolf. Wolf pups, in particular, look extremely similar to coyotes and can be very difficult to tell apart. However, wolves can be identified by the following:
- Large nose pad that is broad and blocky.
- Short and rounded ears.
- Shoulder height is about 26-32 inches, or just taller than a Golden Retriever dog.
- Wolves are much heavier than coyotes, weighing about 70-150 Ibs depending on breed.
- Wolves’ tails do not curl upwards, even when running. They have bushy tails that hang to almost the ground.
- Most wolves are colored grizzled gray, but some can be all black. In northern populations, you will find white and cream-coated wolves.
- Wolf tracks will be 4-5.5 inches long by 3.75-5 inches wide. They will be broad and robust, especially in the winter. Toes will appear more splayed and have larger inner toes compared to coyotes. All four claws will show in the tracks. You will find tracks in direct lines with evenly placed steps.
General Information About Wolves
- Wolves can run up to 40 mph while chasing prey.
- Wolves live and hunt in a pack that travel great distances per day.
- Deer, elk, moose, birds, snakes, rabbits, small mammals, and fruits make up a wolf’s diet.
- There are usually 6-10 wolves in a pack.
- Males typically weigh up to 90 Ibs, while females weigh up to 70.
- Wolves have a complex social hierarchy within the pack, including one dominant male and female, or the alpha pair.
- The beta pair (second in command) will never mate, unlike the alpha pair.
- Female wolves will bear 4-6 pups on average in each litter.
Know Which Predators Are In Your Area
You can never be too careful, and you know that having the “it’ll never happen to me” mindset is a recipe for disaster.
Before you go out on your hike, whether by your home or in a new area, research what predators can be nearby. Check your local Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s website for a list of regional wildlife. Once you have identified which predators are in the area, do thorough research on them.
Always be prepared!
Be cautious and know your surroundings when hiking and exploring in wolf country. Possibly hike with only a group of friends in these areas if you go deep into the woods. While wolf attacks are not that common, they can still happen, especially when wolf pups are around. Being prepared and calm is key to surviving a wolf attack.