Minor pundit, major pain, conservative community activist, author, Christian and Texan, I believe all we can take with us is our character.
Wolf Packs Are Organized for Killing
Liam Neeson did a movie several years back called “The Grey”. The movie really got a lot of backs up over at PETA. Animal activist groups came out of the woodwork claiming that wolves are basically harmless to humans and that they are always more scared of us than we are of them. One story that went around was that there are only two documented cases in history where people have been killed by wolves in North America.
As Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century British Prime Minister once noted, "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Thus it is with that "two documented cases" statistic. Trouble is that number doesn’t include the thousands of wolf attacks and killings reported worldwide. And the "North American" number has been frightfully low-balled. Wildlife activists only counted cases where a CSI team investigated and ignored cases more than a couple of decades old. It’s a terribly misleading statistic as is the advice these folk give you for dealing with an attack.
One “activist” confidently explained that, if you just looked big and scary, it will make the wolves run away. So, tell that to the two people whose killings actually got counted. One thing our activist wolf-loving friends won't tell you is that if a wolf pack successfully hunts you down, they will tear your corpse to pieces, eat you and bury the bones in a manner worthy of an experienced serial killer. There are hundreds of missing folks who have disappeared into the forest and never been found. How many were the victims of wolf packs is anybody's guess?.
Wolves, you see eat meat and you, my friend, are meat. So, if you go to a wolf pack hunting grounds, you look and smell quite delicious. To avoid becoming the third “documented” wolf victim in North America or one of the many victims lost to history and never investigated by CSI, here are some things you can do to survive a hungry pack of wolves.
If you’re traveling in wolf country, carry a gun and know how to use it. Not just any gun will do. You need a weapon with stopping power. A 22 caliber rifle or pistal may discourage a single attacker if you aim well and the wolf is not very big, but you can wind up badly hurt before a determined large predator like a cougar, bear or a pack of wolves even notices that you are shooting at them. Handguns are easy to carry but it’s easy to miss your target with a handgun, unless you practice a lot and can aim it properly under pressure.
A high powered rifle has a lot of stopping power, especially against a single attacker. Against a determined pack you can only kill one at a time. Angry wolves might not notice that one or two of their number have fallen before they take you down.You'd have to start picking them off at a distance to give them time to realize they are being picked off.
If I wanted to carry a defensive weapon, I'd take a 12-gauge assault style shotgun. It can get off multiple rounds of heavy buckshot in just a few seconds. If the pack gets too you need to do some damage. Spraying the pack with lead pellets will take out several wolves and scatter the others. Even at more of a distance, a hail of buckshot will be thoroughly discouraging. And buckshot spreads when your are farther away. Pellets bouncing off their hides and striking their faces should be enough to break up the pack’s focus on their potential prey. That's you by the way. Remember. YOU ARE MEAT!
Even if you're just walking or jogging through a wooded area, it’s a good idea to carry some sort of weapon you can use by hand. If you don't wand to carry a gun, a decent sized knife, machete, or a walking stick can buy you time against a wolf pack, but probably won't save your life unless you're Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee.
Wolves don’t like to take big risks but they get pretty brave if they are with the pack. Wolves would rather chase their prey into boggy areas, deep snow or slippery surfaces where the footing is bad. They keep their prey running until they are exhausted and easier to bring down.
A quick stand with a walking stick with a point on it or a lead core in one end and buy you some space to maneuver. A knife has some limited value, but it would be much better on the end of a stick. Close in fighting styles are not terribly effective when you are surrounded by a frantic pack of wolves. You want something that will keep them away from your legs and arms and groin.
Pepper spray will discourage wolves, but only if you get enough in their eyes and have enough for everybody. A couple of little spritzes will probably only make them all angry. Mace might be powerful enough to discourage a less than determined pack, but it is illegal for use against humans and almost impossible to get in sufficient strength to stop a wolf pack. Wolf packs can be quite large. A small town in Russia was attacked by a pack of an estimated 400 wolves. The pack had had a population explosion and had exhausted the prey population in the area and desperate food, overcame their fear and struck a vulnerable human settlement.
I’d prefer mace to pepper spray against wolves but mace is some bad stuff. If you get some wind and a backspray on yourself it can ruin your day. But you want to keep the pack at bay so that you have room to maneuver toward a tree or to high firm ground you can defend. For that some kind of spray with fiery habaneiro pepper base - enough to clear the area without blinding you permanently.
How a Pack Attacks
As a teacher, I used to play a game with my students called Fox and Hounds. One child was given a “tail” that hung from a back pocket or belt. We'd give him a short head start and then turned loose the pack (the rest of the children). The "hounds" chased the "fox" through a large, preferably wooded area with strict boundaries. When someone finally snagged the fox's tail, He or she got to be the “fox” and it was oft to the races once more.
What was surprising to me was how quickly the kids got in touch with their inner wolf and learned to hunt like a real pack of wolves. Inevitably, the kid who was the biggest and fastest in the bunch became the fox. And what the biggest and fastest soon learned was that despite a formidable size and speed advantage and being pursued by smaller, slower kids, the fox always got caught.
Here's how the hounds in this game did it. The not-it kids would set up a strategy of chasing the fox back and forth till he got tired. One or two would chase the fox in the direction of another pair who would replace their tired pack mates and keep after the fox. Then another would take over and another and another until the very fast fox was pooped. Then they'd come in from all sides, corner the fox and snag his tail.
You didn’t have to teach them how to do it. It’s an obvious technique. Wolves can run as fast as 35 miles per hour, but often their prey can run faster. Wolves will chase prey (which might be you if they are hungry enough) until the prey gets tired. If the prey is you, there's little chance you will be able to outrun a motivated hungry wolf pack.
Once they pick you out for lunch, you only have seconds to find the nearest high ground or a tree you can swing up into. Wolf packs will nip and bite at you, taking quick passes at you trying to draw blood, confuse, and weaken you. What's even more disturbing is that the pack doesn’t care if they kill you or not. They only want to eat you. Pack victims often die from being eaten rather than from any killer blow. Their goal is bring you down where they can get at your meaty bits.
Larger Packs are Possible
When roaming the wild country or even the borderlands of forests, keep your eyes open. Scan the horizon and the middle distances frequently. If you do glimpse a wolf or two at a distance, you may only have seconds. They are hard to see anyway and by the time you do see them they are probably closer than they seem. If you check around you, you may find some on the other side of you. This is bad news, because they are likely moving to flank you.
What you do in the next few minutes may save your life. Situational awareness and a cool head are critical at this junction. Walking in primitive areas, like a Walmart parking lots on the edge of town or in the depths of national forests, always be on the lookout for quick escape routes. As you move through the area, steadily revise “what if” scenarios in your head so that if, heaven help you, you're attacked, you know first two or three steps you need to do immediately. You can make the rest up as you are moving toward a safe defensible area.
Here are some defensive strategies that will help you plan your defense. It’s too late by the time you’re already surrounded by slavering wolves intent on eating t your tender meaty parts.
- Get onto firm footing and away from mud, snow or bogs.
- Look for a defensible position on solid terrain. If you can't get up high, look for a place surrounded on two or three sides by some sort of barrier the wolves can’t get over or at you from above. If the pack has only one clear attack vector available, your defensive problem is less difficult.
- Move carefully toward defensible solid ground, water or toward a tree you can get up into quickly. Unless where you are going is close by, don't break and run too soon. The pack will charge if you look like you are going to escape.
- Whatever you do, don’t run toward an open area. It excites the wolf pack and they will instantly chase you. Wolves may attack joggers who have missed the pack's approach. They might think you've spotted them and might get away. That could explain why joggers get attacked. Running for their lives is how deer escape the pack. Don’t be a deer. You aren’t that fast.
- If you can swim and there is a body of water nearby, swim across it or out to an island you can get to. The wolves will be reluctant to follow you there. Even standing in waste deep water puts the advantage vastly in your favor, especially if you have a weapon. A water escape is NOT recommended in very cold weather since hypothermia, though a more peaceful death than death by wolf pack, it is till, after all, death! So if you are a swimmer and the water isn't too cold (think Alaska), hit the water. You are a better fighter in the water and they know it or will quickly learn. Water to a wolf is not a recreational sport. It's staying alive when they are in the water. If you grab a swimming wolf by the scruff of the neck away from its teeth and push it under it's instantly advantage human.
- Caught in the open and haven’t reached your preferred fighting ground, you’ll have to stand and fight? As you do so, look for pauses in the attack and move the battle toward better ground so you will have the advantage. Don’t get rooted to a bad spot.
Anticipating Wolf Pack Tactics
If a wolf pack has picked you out for the lunch menu, unless you can pepper them with buckshot to drive them away, the wolf pack will eventually make a move to attack you. You will want to run, but you must resist the flight response unless you are close to a refuge (water, tree or three sided shelter. Find your defensible position calmly but quickly. Walk. Don’t run. Wolves can attack from any position, but watch for these signs of an impending attack:
- Ears pricked up (a dominance signal)
- Tails straight up in the air.
- Bared fangs.
Animal activists are right about one thing. Sometimes you can shout or wave a stick around or charge one member of the pack, and you may scare the lead wolf or trigger a general retreat by the others. Note, however, I said “may.” I even put it in italics twice. As ranchers have found out to their economic regret, scare tactics only keep off the wolves for so long. Ranchers have lost 20 or 30 head of sheep or cattle and several guard dogs in a single night to marauding wolf packs. Some of them can have a formidable number of hungry lupine members. Hungry, rabid or excited and determined wolves lose their fear of loud people noises after a relatively short time if there is no painful follow-through from a tasty human or their animal charges. Here are some techniques that are a little more aggressive than just making noise:
- Throw sticks and rocks at the closest wolves as they approach. Try to land as many hard blows as you can. Make them yelp. The others may back up if their fellows are hurt. This will give you a little time to collect more rocks. The farther away you can keep them, the better.
- If you can, get into the water and especially if you’ve ever had lifeguard training. It’s a simple matter to grab the first wolf who swims out to you behind the ears by the scruff and push his head under. We talked about this tactic earlier. Hold him down till he stops struggling. If he manages to twist away he'll probably swim away. In any case, stay behind him and away from fangs and claws. This is easier to do in deep water than it sounds thanks to our good old opposable thumbs and superior swimming ability (assuming you graduated beyond the basic “dog paddle”.) The other wolves probably won’t follow you or attempt to attack you in water deep enough that they have to swim. They aren’t that comfortable as swimmers and aren’t designed for it.
- Always stand facing the direction of the center of the general attack. Don’t let them get behind you. Protect your legs. Strike hard on the head of any wolf that tries to get to your legs. They're trying to get you down on the ground so protect those ankles and knees and those fat femoral arteries. Aim for the nose and eyes when you strike a blow. It’s their most vulnerable spot. At the same time keep your neck high so they can't get to your jugular.
- If you’re smart and carrying a cane with a pointy end, thrust it down the throat of the first wolf to come at you. Hold on and withdraw it. His gag reflex will prevent him from clamping down. A sharp sword thrust with the pointed end of a stick is more devastating than a sideswipe. The only way a sweeping strike with the end of your stick will be effective is if you’ve weighted down the end of your cane with lead or something heavy that will break bones. Thrust and deflect is your best tactic. Shove the pointy end of a stick in the wolf’s eye or down his throat.
- Don’t try to rip a wolf’s jaws apart with your bare hands like Tarzan in those old movies. It won’t work. An adult wolf bites with 1500 pounds per square inch of pressure. If you've ever been bitten by a dog, think about this. A German shepherd’s bite only manages about 500 psi. So, you badly want to avoid the dog's teeth. So what you’re up against is formidable. If a wolf grabs your stick or weapon or worse, your arm in his teeth, you must react quickly and do the opposite of what is intuitive. Instinct tells you to pull away, but a wolf’s fang are curved backward precisely to prevent you from pulling away. But, if you quickly shove your stick or arm forcefully backward, deeper into the bite, you may be able to take advantage of the wolf’s gag reflex and force a relaxing of the bite for a second. That’s the time to pull your arm or weapon free. It works when people are biting you too by the way. If you shove an arm down the animal’s throat you are moving with the curvature of the teeth so your arm doesn’t receive near the damage it would if you pulled against the curvature. Stick a cane or stick down the dog’s throat and you can put him out of action for the rest of the fight. At the very least he's going to want to back off the bite quickly, which is exactly what you want him to do.
When you’re planning your wolf pack escape, don’t count on fighting your way out. Getting to a defensible place is the most important. Your attack plan will very likely NOT work out like Bruce Lee fighting off 10 guys with his superior karate. Wolf packs average 10 or 12 members and tend to be much larger in seasons where food is scarce.. Packs have been know to have up to 30 members and in today’s world they compete with man for food and territory. If you have 30 wolves in a group, you probably are having a serious shortage of rabbits and squirrels and some really hungry predators.
People are reluctant to shoot wolves that become intrusive or too friendly around humans because they believe them to be seriously endangered. The truth is that there are some 7 to 11,000 wolves in Alaska alone. That doesn't count Canada's vast wilderness in those calculations nor an estimated 5000 plus wolves in the continental USA. They do not eat dog chow. They don't pick up a bag or two of Gravy Train down at the Safeway. They kill things. It’s what they do. They kill if they are hungry. It's what they know. They kill if they are rabid. They kill if they’re comfortable with humans and you look so sufficiently helpless that the pack judges you a low-risk kill. Finally, if you walk up on a fresh kill, they just might kill you because they're all in a “killin’ mood” at the time.
They are not puppy dogs. They never safely domesticate and attacks by pet wolves on family members are well documented. They drag kids out of sleeping bags by their face. That’s documented. They jump trapper and campers stepping out of their RVs. They attack people worldwide. One pack attacked an Iranian cop on horseback, another a pair of farmers in China and another pack of only 3 wolves jumped a British-Canadian lumberjack with an axe.
Look, don't get me wrong, wolves are amazing creatures. They form family groups, care for their young and by all accounts are loyal to their packs. There’s a place for wolves in the ecosystem. Without them we’d be overrun with deer and bunny rabbits. But the next time one of those “friends of the wolf” people try to tell you wolves aren’t dangerous and cite that “2 deaths in a century statistic”, just be aware. For more on the statistical problem check out “Lies, Danged Lies and Statistics: ‘The Grey’ Gets the PETA Treatment”.
There are a lot of really good articles on this subject. Some provide camping tips. Some advice is good. Be careful of articles that say not to worry, they are more scared of you than you are of them. A lot of bad advice remains on the internet, put there by well-meaning animal rights activists. Here are three reliable sources I used.
A coyote came through our suburb killing kittens and puppies. Someone shot it and the uproar from the animal rights people was ridiculous. The homeowner shot the coyote when he found it sitting outside his fence stalking his kids who were playing in the backyard. You'd have thought he'd claimed the 2020 election was stolen to hear them howl. Don't assume everything on the Internet is true, especially if the author has an axe to grind.
The fact is, wolves and humans increasingly trespass on each others' territories and the number of wolf attacks has increased more than you know. Authorities don't count all of the attacks if the police don't get involved. Here are some numbers and extra information about protecting yourself in the wilderness whether jogging, hiking or camping on all those wonderful wilderness trails we have now. Remember that you are meat. That's all I'm saying. If you wish to check out these sources, just cut and paste the URL link into your browser.
This article updated in part from my original 2012 blog with new material added
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