Wildlife Extension Program
Ranchers' Guide to Wolf Depredation
of expanding populations of naturally occurring wolves
and due to re-introductions of wolves in the 1990s,
ranchers in most western states are increasingly concerned
about wolf depredation of livestock. As wolf populations
continue to increase, it will be difficult for experts
to make prompt site visits when a suspected wolf depredation
has occurred. This publication provides basic information
on identifying wolf depredation, and includes steps
for verifying suspected wolf depredation.
If a rancher suspects wolf depredation, the top priority
should be to preserve evidence so that an accurate determination
of the cause of livestock death can be made by appropriate
USDA-APHIS, Wildlife Services personnel.In addition
to knowing how to preserve the evidence, ranchers also
must learn how to make preliminary judgments on whether
to call Wildlife Services. Even if a rancher presently
has no wolves near his or her property, it is not uncommon
for adult wolves to wander over 1,000 square miles in
a six-month period. Wolves in the West will continue
to expand their range.
Wolves attack and kill large domestic animals by lunging
and biting at the shoulders and sides. A trail of blood
and patches of hair are often evident. In the U.S.,
most wolf attacks are in the shoulder and flank area.
Individual wolves and small packs sometimes concentrate
on the flank and hind legs. The prey is often left to
become weak and stiff. Wolves begin to feed when the
prey is knocked over or falls from weakness.The bite
usually causes damage deep in the underlying tissues.Cattle
severely injured by wolves
appear dazed and exhibit a characteristic spread-eagle
stance. They are reluctant to move because of the deep
pain. Wolves usually feed on cattle at the kill site.
Parts are sometimes carried off. Bones are often chewed
and broken. Wolves prefer to feed on the viscera and
hind legs of domestic prey. However, preferential feeding
patterns are not obvious on prey killed by packs.
Wolves do not usually select for size or age on sheep.
Multiple kills often occur. Bites to the head, neck,
back, flanks and hindquarters are common. Injuries may
include a crushed skull, severed spine, disembowelment
and massive tissue damage. Wolves will also kill sheep
by attacking the throat, similar to the manner in which
a coyote kills sheep. Wolves, however, will damage the
underlying tissue much more.
Wolf tracks are almost twice the size
of coyote tracks. Because track sizes of domestic dogs
vary widely, it may be difficult to differentiate a
wolf track from a large dog track. Mountain lion tracks
leave no claw mark and the heel of a lion has three
lobes.The stride of a wolf (distance between imprints
of the same foot) is 18 to 26 inches. In deep snow,
members of a wolf pack will commonly follow in the exact
footprints of the pack leader.Wolf scat (droppings)
is usually larger than that of a coyote. Scat one inch
or larger in diameter is probably from wolves. Scat
smaller than one inch may be from a wolf or coyote,
because there is overlap.Wolves do not cover a carcass.
Grizzly and black bears do, and mountain lions almost
always cover their kill.Bears and mountain lions do
not break and scatter bones. Wolf kills are often evidenced
by chewed bones that are disarticulated and dragged
for some distance.
If You Suspect Wolf Depredation
The most important aspect of proving that a wolf killed
livestock is preserving the evidence. As soon as possible
after finding a suspected kill, you should do the following:
- Carefully look for tracks or droppings. WATCH WHERE
YOU STEP! Tracks may be hard to see and only visible
on thin dust areas. Preserve tracks and droppings
by placing cans or buckets over them.
- Being careful where you step, place a tarp or plastic
cover over the livestock carcass. This will keep scavengers
off the kill.
- Record the evidence with pictures or videotape.
Also, take pictures or videos during official examinations.
Take plenty of notes.
- Call your state ADC office as soon as possible.
This organization is now named USDA-APHIS, Wildlife
Services. Their job is to help ranchers protect livestock
related to shooting wolves vary between states. It is
your responsibility to know what you can legally do
to protect your livestock. At the present time: “In
the experimental population areas of Montana (southeast
of Hwy 12 at the Montana/Idaho border, south of I-90
from Missoula and southeast/south of I-15 and the Missouri
River from at Great Falls) and in Idaho (south I-90),
wolves that are attacking (in the act of physically
biting, chasing or harassing) livestock (hoofed domestic
ungulates and herding/guarding animals) and dogs can
be legally shot by private landowners. Public land grazing
permittees may only shoot a wolf that is attacking their
livestock or their livestock herding/guarding animals
on their active allotment. Any shooting of a wolf must
be reported within 24 hours, the site must remain undisturbed,
and physical evidence of such killing, wounding or physical
attacking must be present upon law enforcement investigation.
No private citizen in Montana or Idaho outside of the
experimental population areas may legally attempt to
harm, injure or kill a wolf.
In Wyoming, private landowners may only legally shoot
a wolf that is in the act of physically biting, grasping
and killing their cattle, sheep, horses or mules on
their private land. Any shooting of a wolf must be reported
within 24 hours, the site must remain undisturbed, and
physical evidence of such killing or wounding must be
present upon law enforcement investigation.
Since 1995 about 20 wolves have been legally killed
by private land owners under these types of regulations.
None of those investigations resulted in further legal
action. However, because wolves are protected under
the Endangered Species Act, there is up to a $100,000
fine and possible one year imprisonment for illegally
killing a wolf.” —Ed Bangs, U.S. Fish and
State Wildlife Services Offices
- Montana Wildlife Services, State Director, 406-657-6464
- Idaho Wildlife Services, State Director, 208-378-5077
- Wyoming Wildlife Services, State Director, 307-261-5336
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