Wolf Hunting in Russia

Sergei Shushunov
Sergei Shushunov wolf hunting, St. Petersburg

By Sergei Shushunov:

Being an  out-of-the closet-hunter  I often receive letters from well-meaning, usually European ladies in which they describe their dreams of staying in a log cabin somewhere in a wilderness (a grocery store is within a long 15-minute drive), sitting by a fireplace, sipping scotch flavored coffee and listening to howling wolves. Some of these ladies appear to be angry presumably due to the fear that wolf hunting would deprive them of this opportunity. The romantic image of wolves as gentle predators, “removing” (God forbid to say “Killing”) sick and weak animals is based on a frequently quoted study of Adolph Murie published in 1940′s.
 Several things must be made clear regarding this notion. First, those coffee drinkers have never seen life wolves outside of the zoo and have never been followed by them for hours in the middle of winter, when only a buckshot loaded shotgun separated them from having a dinner after reaching a cabin or becoming a dinner. Second, Adolph Murie study has never been replicated. Replicability of a study is one of the most important scientific principals, making me wonder if that study was accurate. Surprisingly, it is continued being quoted by wolf lovers as if it was handed down to mortals by the divine being. Third, searching through Russian publications often yields different results. Wolves found in Russia can be much more aggressive towards humans than those in North America. There have been verifiable reports of wolves attacking humans in Russia. Maybe Russians are tastier than Canadians and this is the reason lethal attacks of wolves on humans are well known in Russia. Wolves’ attacks on livestock don’t surprise anyone – this is a natural part of living in rural Russia.  In some areas of Russia and several former Soviet republics wolves attacks on humans are common enough not to make the news.

Sergei Shushunov wolf hunting in Russia
Sergei Shushunov wolf hunting in Russia

The largest specimens or arctic wolves, found in the North Eastern tundra, may reach 2 meters (just under 7 ft.) from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail and weigh up to 100 kg. (220 lb.). One specimen at the Zoology museum in Moscow stands 85 cm (33.5 in) tall at the shoulders.

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Flagged wolf hunt
Flagged wolf hunt

The habitat of the wolf covers huge territories from the western borders of Russia to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and from the Arctic Tundra to the steppes of Kazakhstan and Mongolia. This is the most widespread big animal in Russia. The population of wolf has been increasing steadily throughout Russia.  In 2013 a super pack of wolves of about 400 heads terrorized a small Siberian village, prompting Russian wildlife authorities to encourage wolf culling.

Each wolf consumes approximately 1.5 kg (3 lbs) of meat a day. Therefore pack of 10 wolves requires 15 kg (33 lbs) of meat a day. European cow moose weighs about 200 kg (440 lbs), which leaves only about 100 kg (220 lbs) of meat. As intelligent as wolves are, they don’t care that a cow will produce more meat for their future meals. Cow moose is much easier prey than a twice as large moose bull. Make your math: a pack of wolves will need 50 cows, or 100 red deer, or 500 to 700 European roe deer to last a year. Once a pack decimates moose population in one area, it moves to the next. One Russian proverb says “a wolf is fed by its legs”, referring to a pack ability to cover a distance of 100-150 km (60-90 mi) a day even in the midst of winter.

Wolf is one of the most intelligent, best socially organized, wary and highly adaptable animal. This makes wolf hunting very difficult. Many trophies are taken by chance encounters. Organized wolf hunts frequently rely on baiting. In hard to reach areas, where wolves numbers become unmanageable, helicopters or snowmobiles can be used to cull them. However, the most exciting wolf hunting is done in the European part of Russia in an old tradition, which is unknown in other countries. When a pack is located, it is encircled with a 3-5 km. (2-3 mi.) long tether, having small swatches of fabric (the flags) stitched to it every few feet. The fabric is usually of red color to be easier spotted over the background of snow by the guides.  This tether retains human scent for several days, prohibiting wolves to come close to it keeping them within the encircled area. When wolf hunters arrive, the pack of wolves is already flagged. Therefore, the hunt must begin immediately. Preparation takes a great deal of footwork, but the success rate is very high. Four to five hunting days are usually sufficient.

The wolf season is opened year around, but the best time is January-February. January wolf hunts can be combined with lynx and wolverine.