Hunting and Predators–does it work?

George Wuerthner questions whether hunting predators solves human conflicts with them-

Wuerthner argues that a lot of the arguments in favor of hunting predators fail to take into account the contradictory effects of sport hunting them, such as fewer wolves than before the hunt but distributed in more (but smaller) wolf packs might kill more elk than before the hunt.

He is hardly the first to make this argument.  It has been noted for years that general killing of coyotes can actually increase the number of coyotes, and even it it doesn’t, increase the number of domestic sheep killed by coyotes.

Hunting and Predators—does it make Sense? Unfiltered by George Wuerthner, New West.






  1. Nancy Avatar

    Here we go again.

    I think George Wuerthner is right on with his arguement (and his past articles have certainly tried to point out how one sided the issue is when it comes to not only wolves but the abuse of public lands out here in the west)

    There’s a percentage of people out here that truely feel having wolves in the ecosystem is a benefit.

    Another percentage feel wolves are disruptive to the way things have always been and need to be controlled, as their numbers increase.

    Another percentage wants them dead and gone from the landscape because they are convinced it was a bad idea to begin with, because wolves interfere with their ability to raise animals to kill or hunt animals to kill.

    And then there’s that other percentage of people OUT THERE, that really don’t have a clue (pay taxes on public lands but could really care less as long as they can visit and vacation here) as to whats going on unless some of those percentages above, can rally sides and sound convincing enough, on some blog (and regardless of whether its pro or anti, they all seem to have a “hand” out for contributions)

    So the question is: Is there a percentage of people here and there, willing to slow down and stop slinging crap, long enough to analyze ALL the information available so wildlife can actually get back to just being wildlife?

  2. Craig Avatar

    That brings up an intresting question, do Wolves kill for Sport? Or are smaller packs killing, moving on as not to compete with other predators or Human interference? You would think a larger pack would kill more to feed more members! That is a very intresting question that may have a very huge impact on why people see wolves as ruthless killers.

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      What it means with smaller packs killing more is that they kill about the same number of times as a larger pack but b.c the pack is say half (5 vs 10) that would essentially be twice as many elk per wolf not pack.
      Say a pack of 10 kills an elk, and within 2 days they eat it all. They then go hunting again and kill one a few days later. Another pack of 5 kills an elk, but scavengers help finish it within say 2 days, they would then go out and possibly kill another one. Therefore, both packs might kill the same number (1 or 2 in a week) but it is essentially twice as much as the larger pack b/c less food is being converted to wolves in the case of the smaller pack.
      I don’t think that has anything to do with sport, rather with scavengers (bears, coyotes) finishing their first prey item, they then go to a 2nd.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Over the years I’ve heard of more than a couple of instances (in this area) where a group of hunters got into a herd of elk and just started randomly firing away. Now that would be my defination Craig, of “ruthless killers”

      2. Jay Avatar

        Nancy–not sure if you hunt, but if you have the chance, you should talk with your local conservation officer. Over several conversations with my local officer, shooting until something drops does not seem to be a rare event, particularly during the cow elk hunts. There are some really bad “hunters” out there that give the rest of us a bad name.

    2. JimT Avatar

      As far as the latest wolf biologists’ opinions go on the subject, it is a big NO on the sport killing. They are opportunistic predators who will come back to a kill again and again *if allowed to*. Unfortunately, the wolf haters have filled the airwaves and print media and meeting halls with myths and lies about wolves and their “motives”..and people buy it.

      1. jon Avatar

        I’ve never of any wolf biologist or wildlife biologist for that matter say wolves kill for sport. It’s only those that want to demonize wolves saying that wolves kill for sport. Even if they did, why are some hunters mad? Like none of them don’t kill for sport? Hypocrisy.

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      Or course a larger pack would kill more to feed its members than a smaller pack would.

      Wuerthner is saying that because of food loss to scavengers, the same number of wolves distributed into 3 packs, instead of 1 big pack, would kill more.

      This greater loss to scavengers would be due to a small pack’s inability to consume its prey in one feeding.

      I can think of a corollary. Small pack loss to scavengers will probably be less when smaller prey are targeted, e.g., deer, than larger, e.g. elk and moose.

      As a general statement, what Wuerthner says would be modified by the kind and number of scavengers present in an area.

      He is assuming there is no such thing or very little “surplus killing,” which is the scientific word (I think) for what you call “sport killing.”

      I haven’t seen much scientific evidence of surplus killing except in the case of domestic sheep.

  3. JB Avatar

    I guess it all depends upon how you define “conflict”. If hunter perceptions that elk populations are impacted by wolves are considered a type of conflict then hunting wolves could potentially reduce this type of “conflict” by limiting wolves’ number and distribution. However, a side effect COULD (the science is hardly compelling here) be increased conflicts with livestock.

    Another factor to consider is that while the rate of conflicts (i.e., conflicts per wolf) might increase, lower wolf populations (assuming hunting is effective at limiting wolves) could mean a smaller number of total conflicts.

  4. Nancy Avatar

    Jay- no I don’t hunt and the last time I had a conversation with a “conservation officer” in my district (2 in fact) I was not impressed. I think I might of mentioned the episode here.

    A young doe got hung up in an old fenceline out back (she’d probably had been there most of the night struggling to get free) before I saw her while walking my dogs.. My neighbor came down and cut her out but her leg was raw and mangled and her hip appeared to be broken. She dragged herself to a part of my property after being cut out and it was obvious she was suffering.

    I called and left a message with two game wardens in the town close to me and both returned my call but seemed to think she would “recover” (one even sited a situation where a deer gave birth on three legs) OR…….. if I had a gun, I could put her out of her misery. But, I don’t own a gun.

    Related their comments to my 80 year old neighbor (who’d cut her out of the fence) and he came over with his gun but she had dragged herself up and over a hillside and I was more concerned about him breaking a leg, trying to find her in the sagebrush and slick snow covered hillside, so the search was called off.

    The crows, ravens and magpies flying up in back, furnished “the end of the story” a couple of days later.

    Being motivated to help wildlife in distress did not seem to be at the top of either one of these “officers” agendas.

    And that’s very sad when you think about it.

    1. Jay Avatar

      Pretty small sample size to damn an entire field of dedicated professionals.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Not damning the entire field of professionals Jay, but fact is, they represent my area and I would of thought they would of been alittle more concerned.

  5. Elk275 Avatar

    ++My neighbor came down and cut her out but her leg was raw and mangled and her hip appeared to be broken.++

    If the doe had a broken hip what could they have done? Nothing, except shoot her, which they ask you to do. When you live in rural Montana everyone owns a gun or should own one. Game Wardens have a budget and every mile driven counts against the budget which restricts other needed patrols.

  6. Save bears Avatar


    That is a tough call, I know where I live, if we have a situation like that, we just put them down and drag them away from the area the humans inhabit, I would have to agree with Elk, if you live rural in Montana you need to have a gun, just in case a situation like this comes up..Blunt? Yes, Reality? Yes, unfortunately sometimes it is

  7. Nancy Avatar

    Elk & SB, can appreciate your thoughts on why its a good idea to have a gun around but I don’t think I could shoot an animal, eeven one suffering because I’m sure it has to be done right or you can make it even worse for the animal. Its why I called the game wardens. I called the sheriff’s dept. first and thats who they suggested I call.

  8. Salle Avatar

    Waaay back about thirty-some-odd years ago I was asked, because I had guns and was a fairly good shot (target only), to come to my husband’s cousin’s house and shoot a raccoon that had been caught in a trap because his wife was freaking out and the raccoon was thrashing around. I went, because nobody else was near-by, and found that I was hard pressed to pull the trigger. I did kill the poor thing and I have not been able to get over it even to this day. I am not a killer-type and have, since witnessing hunting and butchering as a child, a hard time consuming meat even now. I have hit deer who ran out in front of my semi truck and felt horrible about it… semis don’t stop on a dime – think physics and the concept of weight in motion, like 80K lbs traveling at 60+mph.

    I can see Nancy’s point and agree with her on this ordeal. A deer ran out in front of me in Missouri once and I hit it, I couldn’t stop due to the physics issues and the fact that about fifteen other semis were right behind me that couldn’t stop either. I went to the very next truck stop, about five miles up the road, and called the sheriff to ask that someone go to see whether there was a suffering deer in or on the roadside. The majority of the conversation consisted of why I didn’t go back and kill it. I explained that I was NOT in a car and that turning around wasn’t going to happen due to time constraints and the fact that all I had in my possession to finish off a dying animal was 4 inch knife blade and that wasn’t very humane… The sheriff was still lost on where my car was and couldn’t grasp the concept of a woman driving a semi. I had to let go of that issue and get back on the road, it wasn’t a good night for my conscience. Fortunately, I only hit two deer in the course of a million and a half miles. Had numerous close calls though.

    Calling for assistance usually requires calling a friend who is a hunter, many of my friends are, rather than a game warden who is more dialed in to the regulations of licenses for fishing and hunting and little else… regardless of the reasons, that’s about it. Help with wild animals in trouble isn’t a biggie on their list of priorities, at least that’s been my experience, even recently…

  9. Nancy Avatar

    Salle, thanks for understanding.

    Years ago I knew a guy in CA who was an avid hunter, looked forward to hunting season every year. Til he shot a doe one day and didn’t kill her with the first shot. He said when he got up to her and looked into those big, brown eyes, he started crying like a baby. (Hard to picture this huge guy, getting emotional over much) He said his gun went into the closet and the only time he shot wildlife after that, was with a camera.

  10. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Has anyone who studies wolves or coyotes ever found evidence that packs might have domestic dogs run with them some nights in suburban, ranch or farmland areas?

  11. Nancy Avatar

    Linda, mentioned on one of the blogs here not long ago about the pack (5) of coyotes playing with two ranch dogs on the meadow across from me. It was a virgorous game of tag and it went on for over an hour. I kept thinking at any moment these dogs were gonna be lunch! Then the dogs headed home.
    Early one spring morning (around 3 am) a pack of coyotes woke me up, howling not far from my cabin and mingled in with their voices, was a dog!! I had no doubt about that – sounded like one of those coon dogs baying. I was amazed! But when I started howling along with them out the window, they all quickly shut up. (Which was a good thing since I had to work that day)

    Another morning I heard coyotes and my dog started barking madly in the yard, when I looked out a couple of ranch dogs were trotting down the dirt road next to me, coming from the same direction I’d heard the coyotes.

    While I don’t study coyotes, I do enjoy having the little song dog around and I’ve certainly had my share of eyewitness accounts when it comes to their behavior with dogs. I’d always heard that coyotes will take down and kill a dog but after witnessing these exchanges, I have to wonder.

    Were these just young coyotes? More accepting of another canine, not quite like them, but because parts of their adult pack had been taken out, it turned into fun and games?
    Between WS and those with a gun and an axe to grind against coyotes around here (thousands are killed each year) you do have to wonder how well each species might actually get along without man’s negative influence.

    (It took me awhile when I first got here to realize what the planes and helicopters were doing early spring, buzzing around the valley, and then someone put a name on it – predator control)

    1. jon Avatar

      The famous black wolf from Alaska known as Romeo who was gunned down by hunters was known to play with dogs as well. Some people would take their dogs to play with Romeo. I know Romeo was a wild black wolf, but from what I read, he never tried to eat or kill any of the domestic dogs that played with him and some of the people who were there witnessing Romeo play with their dogs said that Romeo never showed any aggression toward their dogs. He liked playing with them. Stories like this will hopefully shut those people up who think wolves are going to kill and attack every single dog they come across.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        But Jon you must realize that (coyotes and wolves) do attack and kill dogs, and I’m guessing it might have alot to do with territory or it might just boil down to a meal (Romeo from what I read, tried at one point to run off with a small dog) He might of been an exceptional ambassdor for wolves but he’d also became habituated to humans, perhaps because he was a lone wolf and was looking for any kind of social contact, which the people in that area provided, along with their 4 legged friends.

      2. jon Avatar

        I realize they do nancy, but the point I was trying to make is that wolves and coyotes won’t kill every dog they see. He tried to run with one dog, but the owner yelled at Romeo and Romeo dropped the dog. Romeo could have easily killed any one of those dogs, but he didn’t.

      3. Save bears Avatar

        Wolves and Coyotes interacting in a positive manner with domesticated dogs, has been documented quite a few times in the past, I have read different articles in the past about the behavior, most of the time one of the common factors in most cases is the instance of human habituation the wolf or coyotes have.

        They seem to be more tolerant of dogs, if they have spent a lot of time around humans. Another factor that seems to part of the equation is the sex of the dogs or the wild canine, normally, but not always, they seem to be opposite sexes, which leads some to believe that it could be a pheromone issue or even a breeding game.

        With more wild populations the outcomes are not good, and the majority of the time it results in injury to the dogs.

        I have also read information that observers have stated that the game often times seems to be a ploy to trick dogs to leave what the wild wolf or coyote perceives as a food source, so it may not actually be a game but a survival technique..

        I don’t know of any actual scientific studies that back any of these theories, but it does make for interesting reading.

      4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

        We have had quite a few discussions about wolves and dogs in this forum in the past.

        My main conclusion is that wolf packs strongly tend to kill dogs. Individual wolves, however, with no wolves nearby, will tolerate dogs and may play and form a loose bond with a large dog.

      5. Barb Rupers Avatar
        Barb Rupers

        There was a young coyote , I called stub because part ot its tail was missing, that used to visit and play with my young border collie.


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