One of the wildest calls to break the pre-dawn silence is the call of the gray wolf. The wolf is cherished by some as a spirit of the wild, respected by many for its stealth and cunning, and disliked by others who resent it for its voracious predatory practices. The wolf has the attention of all of us here in Kootenai Country Montana.
The gray wolf (Canis lupis) is also known as the timber wolf or western wolf. They are the largest of the wild dogs with adult males weighing 90-120 pounds and at an average of 75-inches long. Females weigh in at 70-85 pounds and average 68-inches long. About half of Montana’s wolves are gray-tan, and half are black with various...
color combinations in between. The eyes can be a green-blue, or an orange-yellow. The ears appear shorter and somewhat rounder than coyotes, and the muzzle is shorter. In contrast to coyotes, wolves will carry the tail upright when fleeing. Although wolves are not considered migratory, they will follow migrating deer family prey in their general range.
Gray wolves are considered opportunistic carnivores, and will take deer, elk, moose, woodland caribou if available, and alternate prey includes snowshoe hares, beaver, small rodents, carrion and rarely vegetation. Their habitat focus is on the seasonally changing ungulate ranges and can be widespread due to the wolf dispersal tendencies. They generally prefer areas of little human activity away from heavily used roads. Hunting is done by lone wolves, pairs, or packs. Though an adult moose can ward off attacks by a lone wolf, pack attacks wear down the endurance and stamina of the moose and usually end up with the wolves succeeding. Domestic cattle and sheep may also be taken.
These timber wolves are considered apex predators, meaning they dominate other canids in their areas and they will attack coyote den sites, digging out and killing the coyote pups, though rarely eating them. Wolves will also kill adult coyotes, particularly in winter when coyotes feed on wolf kills. Grey wolves, being apex predators, are not usually hunted by any other species (excepting man) but confrontations between grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, and wolverines have been reported by reliable sources. Occasionally, there have also been reports of golden eagles taking wolf pups.
Packs consist of a dominant pair, their offspring, and new pups. At times, additional adults are members too. Size of these packs can vary from 4-40, usually averaging ten animals. Territories in northwest Montana usually are about 185-square miles, or 14-by-14 miles and lone wolves may move through established territories. Gray wolves breed in February, gestation is 60-days, and an average of five pups are born in April.
Finding gray wolf tracks, kill sites, and hearing their primordial calls in Kootenai Country Montana is an exciting experience and interpretation from that point on is completely up to the individual.
(Author’s Note: Reference Montana Field Guide Publications, 2003.)