Montana: What Hunters and Others May Not Know About Wolves

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Even with more than 560 wolves in Montana and more than 1,600 in the northern Rocky Mountain States of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, many Montanans have yet to see a wolf.

For some that will change this fall.

"Hunters, hikers, anglers, and others are outdoors in force, increasing the odds of a chance encounter this time of year," said Ken McDonald, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wildlife bureau chief. Wolf packs occur primarily in western Montana, but wolves could be found anywhere in the state.

Hunters and others can help Montana's wolf management efforts by reporting their wolf observations. Go online to , click "Report a Wolf Sighting."
So what should a person expect if they see a wolf? FWP's regional wolf biologists say the most common experience is to catch sight of a wolf or wolves loping away, maybe with a backward glance, or they may run off a ways and stand and stare.

Startled wolves may make a deep, "chesty" bark. A wolf's howl is also commanding, especially if the wolf is nearby and the acoustics of the mountains carry the sound.

But even coming upon wolves at close range is seldom a reason for alarm, McDonald said.

"FWP wolf biologists routinely come upon pup rearing areas or other loafing areas where a pack is spread out and bedded down," he said. "Anyone out enjoying the outdoors could similarly surprise multiple wolves by coming upon them at rest."

"If you surprise resting wolves at close range they might quickly rise to their feet around you," McDonald said. "It can be unnerving, it might heighten your heart rate."

Hunters are most likely to have this experience as they advance stealthily during a hunt.

Some of the wolves scattered across the landscape may see the intruder, while others will not. A few might lope off quietly, others may bark at the intruder, howl to locate the other wolves, or cautiously approach to get a better look at the intruder.

McDonald said once wolves have identified what the disturbance is, they generally leave the area. Or, the vocalizing and movements could go on for awhile as wolves regroup out of sight and pull back from the situation.

"It is easy to read aggression into this, but that is rarely the case," McDonald said. "The few unfortunate incidents between wolves and humans have occurred where wolves were habituated to humans, were fed human foods, provoked or otherwise engaged in ways that caused them to lose their fear of humans.

FWP wolf biologists urge dog owners to control of their dogs and keep them at close range in areas with wolf activity and to leave an area if they see wolf sign or hear wolves. Most wolves would not approach a dog that is close to a human, but some might, depending on the situation. Mountain lion hunters for example, have lost hunting dogs to wolves during a hunt.

In short, though wolves can be caught off guard, they may not bolt away instantly. While that could be encouraging to hunters, it means most Montanans will want to learn more about wolves and spend some time preparing for their first wolf sighting.

To learn more about wolves or report a sighting, go to and click For Fish and Wildlife Information . McDonald noted that the state's general rifle season for wolves opens Oct. 22. The general archery season for wolves was Sept. 3-Oct. 16.

• Do not allow wolves to become comfortable around human dwellings or inhabited areas.
• Report a wolf sighting to FWP online to assist in the tracking and management of wolves in Montana.
• Keep dogs under voice command or on a leash. Wolves can be aggressive toward domestic dogs.
• If you encounter a wolf and your dog is present, bring your dog to heel at your side as soon as possible. Standing between your dog and the wolf usually ends an encounter.
• Do not try to break up a physical fight between the wolf and your dog, to avoid any risk of injury to yourself.
To learn more about wolves or report a sighting to help in the management of wolves in Montana, go to and click For Fish and Wildlife Information.


Retired2hunt's picture

  Also - I would have put all


Also - I would have put all of the do's and don't at the beginning of the article so the infomation is provided at the start.  Putting it at the very end makes for tnhe possibility of the reader getting bored of the read and not finding the real reason for the article.


Retired2hunt's picture

  I definitely agree with you


I definitely agree with you on this one Vermonster.  With all of the novice hikers and outdoors people using these areas there will most likely be more false reports mistaking coyotes or large dogs for a wolf encounter.  I'm certain there will be additional information made available at trailheads and ranger offices.  Everything they can do to educate and inform the public is the answer.


Ca_Vermonster's picture

Well, it's a great idea to

Well, it's a great idea to launch that website, but I can see a problem with the average person mis-reporting them.  As it says, most Montanans have never seen a wolf.  Heck, most have probably never seen a coyote.  So, I can imagine that there will be alot of people who see a coyote, and automatically think it's a wolf.

I realize that the fish and game division will try to educate the average Joe as to the traits and characteristics of a wolf versus a coyote, but I think it's inevitable that they may bet a higher percentage of false alarms.

None the less, it's a great idea.  The data should make for some interesting reading, after the site has been online for awhile and recorded some good data.

numbnutz's picture

These are great reminder for

These are great reminder for the people using the outdoors in wolf counrty. A wolf will most likely run away from a human if seen. They're just like any other predator. They are more scared of you then you are of it. I don't have to worry to much about wolfs as we don't have very many yet in eastern oregon but if I encountered one I would yell or speak load just trying to scare it off. It's very important to keep wolfs scared of humans. If not it will become an issue kind of like the bear problems of this year. Some of the bears are loosing their fear and coming in to populated areas looking for food. If you live in the country make sure to put pet food inside and secure your trash cans or even keep them in a garage or something. I thinks its kind of funny that people have been complaining about 1600 wolf in the Rockies but in Oregon we have over 5000 mountain lions that can eat up to 3 deer or elk calfs per month. Now thats a dent in a herd if you ask me.