The best way to fatally wound a wolf without killing it instantly is to shoot it in the gut, preferably with armor-piercing ammunition. Unlike soft lead-tipped bullets, which mushroom inside the body cavity and kill quickly, heavy-jacketed AP ammo pierces the target and blows out the other side.
This has two advantages: The first is that, especially with a gut shot, the animal will suffer. It will bleed out slowly, run a mile or so in terrified panic, and collapse. Then it will die. The second advantage is that, if you are hunting illegally (out of season, at night with a spotlight, or on land where you shouldn’t), there is little forensic evidence for game wardens to gather. No bullet will be found in the cadaver. Most importantly, the animal will have traveled some distance from where it was shot, so that tracing the site of the shooting is almost impossible.
An undercover reporter who entered as a contestant gleaned these helpful tips from a nice old man at a saloon in Salmon, Idaho, which in December of 2013 was the site of the first annual Coyote and Wolf Derby. Over the course of two days in late December 2013, several hundred hunters competed to kill as many wolves and coyotes as possible. “Gut-shoot every goddamn last one of them wolves,” said the man.
Although the above-described Derby took place in Idaho ten years ago, I have personal knowledge that the “nice old man’s” attitude towards wolves and his modus operandi is not unique to western states, even today. Wolf country in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan each have an anti-wolf segment in their populations. I have found that the anti-wolf sentiment is fueled by self-serving, subjective opinions and desires without regard to the extensive wolf research, scientifically based game management or the economic value (eco-tourism) that wolves contribute to their rural communities.
This anti-wolf issue became personal for me in December of 2022 when I was winter camping in northern Minnesota at the end of the Gunflint Trail. I was searching for a “mythical” Minnesota moose to photograph when my eye caught some movement in the brush. I believed it was a deer, but never assume anything, so I approached slowly, quietly and watched. I could see the animal making its way to the edge of the brush. To my surprise it was a Timber Wolf some forty yards away looking right at me. The wolf backed into the cover of the brush, but I could see that it was moving parallel to a road, so I followed as quietly as possible. I allowed the animal to create some distance between us so as not to alarm it.
When the wolf emerged from the cover and exposed itself, I could see a recent wound to its abdomen. The wolf worked its way to the roadbed. When it reached the clean road and no longer had to push though the deep snow, it turned and ran directly away from me.
Upon inspecting the image that I had captured, me and several experienced outdoor and law enforcement professionals agree that the most likely cause of the wound to this wolf is that it was “gut-shot”. It makes me sick to think about the suffering this animal experienced.
I share this encounter with no expectation of changing anyone’s opinion about wolves (although I would like to), but rather to appeal for their decent and humane treatment. I also hope to encourage a better understanding, through education of wolves behaviors, life cycle, prey/predator impacts and social structure. They are fascinating animals!
I have also included images of moose and deer that I photographed in the immediate territory of the subject wolf/pack. Thank you for reading and here are a couple of links to follow as you expand your knowledge of wolves:
Voyageurs Wolf Project https://www.voyageurswolfproject.org