Learn to Track Wolves

Become an Expert in Tracking Wild Wolves

When you’re in wolf country, finding wolf tracks is usually not a difficult task, and if there is a little snow on the ground the job is even easier. Once you have found the tracks, following them can be either easy or difficult depending on these two factors:

1) Ease of Terrain

Following a set of tracks over a frozen lake or meadow is simple, so long as time and wind have not erased them from history. But following them through a thick forest with dense underbrush and prickly bushes is no fun at all. There is not much you can do about the difficulty of the terrain, and if the going gets too tough, nobody will blame you for giving up.

2) Age of the Tracks

When I’m tracking wolves in Northern Minnesota (my home state), I’m usually doing so in hopes of finding a kill site, or, if fate would smile on me, a den or rendezvous site. (Please note, my intent is only to photograph wolves from a distance.)If the tracks are too old, however, then following them is usually pointless. If they are young and fresh, it might be worth following them for as long as you are able. You never know where they might lead. Here are a few tips to help determine the age of the tracks:

  • Look for wolf droppings Wolf poop (let’s call it what it is) is easy to spot because it is made up almost entirely of deer hair. If it is very fresh, it will still be steaming and moist (only once in my life have I seen signs this fresh.) As it gets older it turns from brown to white and becomes dry and dusty. The younger the droppings, the more moist it will be. If it’s not moist and squishy to the touch (use a stick!) then it is older then twelve hours and not worth following.
  • How Sharp is the Imprint? If the imprint of the wolf’s paw is still sharp and clear in the ground, then it’s a good chance they are fresh. However, if the tracks are across a frozen lake, they can be deceptive! Tracks made only a few minutes ago in thick snow are quickly erased by wind. To find out how old the tracks truly are, follow them off the lake and into protective cover. You may be surprised by how recently you missed the wolf.
  • Examine the Ground If the tracks you have found are in mud or moist ground, then gently prod the earth around them. If the ground has become caked hard and no longer is molded to a foot print, then the tracks are old. If the ground is moist and impressionable then the tracks could be fresh. Better yet, if the tracks are in snow, then examine the snow. How long ago did it fall? Is it old and crunchy or fresh and soft?

3) The Most Difficult Task: Distinguishing Between Wolves and Large Dogs

As man continues to move into what was once wild country, and as wolves continue to adapt to human neighbors, a significant challenge presents itself when trying to identify wild wolf tracks.
The tracks of a wolf and large domesticated dog are indistinguishable. Even to a trained wolf biologist, the two tracks are impossible to tell apart.The secret to telling the two apart is not in looking at the tracks, but in examining the behavior of the animal that made them.
A domesticated dog will move in a wandering cris-crossing path, stopping often to play, sniff, and dig. A wolf, on the other hand, moves deliberately and with purpose. They save playful meandering when they are safe at their den, but when moving across open country, they march most often in single file and only stray from their course to investigate danger or potential food.
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