Wolves do not always hunt in packs. Some packs are known to take down big prey on their own. In the summer, it is not unusual to see a lone wolf hunting.
There are some main things that wolves do when hunting. First, they need to select a prey; then they need to track it, hunt it, and then finally, disable it.
1. Tracking Strategy
The first thing a wolf must do is choose a target. When they do this, it is the leaders who sniff the snow or land to find prey.
A wolf’s nose is 100 times more sensitive than that of a human’s. Sometimes, it can take days to search for a lead. The faintest scent can tell a wolf who was in that location and when the prey was there.
When a wolf leader picks up a promising trail, it can trace where that trail leads. For example, the wolf can pick up the scent of a drop of blood.
In some areas, prey has learned to avoid the wolf. Elks have learned to hide in the thick forest. The elks may also split up, which ensures better survival.
The wolf, however, knows that the prey is just around. Any animal that has bled cannot hide because the wolf can smell it.
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2. Selection Strategy
Wolves are partially opportunistic. They prefer prey that is big enough to feed the pack but one that does not require a lot of energy to chase.
Once the wolf pack has found a herd, they must choose a vulnerable target. To do this, they run down the herd.
As they do this, the prey herd will run for their lives. Once this happens, the wolved observe the animals. They want to see which one is running slow or fast. They want to see if one is young or an adult. They look for an abnormality like a limp.
Based on these cues that come from a prey’s physical condition, the wolf pack can choose which one is the easiest target.
Once the selection process is completed, they follow this particular target. The wolves ignore the other animals in the herd and zero in on the poor prey.
Sometimes, the pack takes down the prey. On some occasions, it takes only one wolf to bring down a large target.
Why do wolves do this? If they choose to attack a healthy target, they risk injury. The risk of getting hurt is high. In addition, once a wolf gets injured, it cannot hunt anymore.
Because of this risk, the wolves must choose prey where they can minimize the injury and maximize their chances of being successful.
3. Disablement Strategy
After choosing the prey, the wolves want to corner the animal. What they typically do is to attack from behind. Wolves are strong—so strong that they can even bring down a buffalo.
A buffalo, however, knows that if it makes a stand to defend itself, it has a chance to survive. Sometimes, a herd of buffaloes will not run. Instead, they would face the wolves.
If the buffalo herd decides to fight, this stand-off can last for days. This situation is bad for the wolves, as they need to feed.
The thing is that this buffalo strategy is not perfect. Otherwise, there would be no wolves in existence. Eventually, the buffalo herd would lose its nerve, and then they would run.
Of course, running is a big mistake, as this gives the wolves an advantage. The flight shows the wolves who among the herd is the weakest.
Typically, a wolf would bite the shoulder of its prey and bring it down. With teamwork, some wolves would bite down the hind legs together.
With two wolves at the back, another one would bite the animal’s neck, suffocating it. Once the animal goes down, it is not likely to get back up. The rest of the pack would pile up, and the prey would be a goner.
For moose, the wolves typically attack the upper hind legs. When the animal gets wounded, it has a gaping skin. Its wound is big enough that, eventually, the animal will suffer from blood loss and muscle damage.
Sometimes, wolves may attack the nose, the ears, and the neck. It is also not unusual for wolves to wait around until the wounded animal gets really weak. It saves them energy, and they would start feasting when the animal has no strength left to fight.
4. Pack Hunting
Wolves are strong when they work together. They are also more efficient, and they know this. As a pack, they have different roles to play to ensure hunting success.
As a pack, they also have better protection, not from predators, but from prey that fights back. Pack members will often form strong bonds with the group.
5. Individual Hunting
Lone wolves are called Dispersers. They are the ones that ensure that the wolf gene pool becomes diverse. In the wild, the lone wolf eventually mixes its genes with other wolf packs.
Because of this, the lone wolf must hunt on its own. They leave not because they want to find a mate. When they do this, they must hunt small prey.
Lone wolves rarely attack big prey because they know that they will die. As such, these wolves will hunt hares and rabbits in the wild.
On some occasions, the lone wolf may also attack an elk, but only when the elk is injured. The wolf must be quick. If he does not take advantage of this situation, another wolf pack may grab this meal.
Individual hunting is temporary. Eventually, the lone wolf will find a mate and raise his family, which will late turn into a new pack.
The main hunting strategy of a wolf involves its sense of smell. A wolf tracks a scent and then follows it. Next, the pack must make the herd of the prey run. This way, the wolves can see the weakest prey.
Wolves will focus on the prey that is easy to take down. Sometimes, it takes three or more to bring down large prey.