The Perverse Logic of Wolf Hunts

I’d been wondering how many cows died from other causes, versus the fewer than 100 (or 0.0003%) killed by wolves. This article includes some of those figures…

The Perverse Logic of Wolf Hunts


The hysteria that surrounds wolf management in the Rockies has clouded rational discussion. Wolves are hardly a threat to either hunting opportunity or the livestock industry.


For instance, the Wyoming Fish and Game reports: “The Department continues to manage to reduce Wyoming’s elk numbers. The total population of the herds with estimates increased by 16 percent in 2009 and is now 29 percent above the statewide objective of 83,640 animals.”

Things are similar in Montana. Populations have grown from an estimated 89,000 animals in 1992 prior to wolf recovery to 140,000-150,000 animals in recent years.

In Idaho we find a similar trend. According to the IDFG 23 out of 29 elk units are at and/or above objective. Hunter success in 2011 was 20%: one in five hunters killed an elk.

Wolves are clearly not a threat to the future of hunting in any of these states.


Ranchers are equally irrational. In 2010 Wyoming livestock producers lost 41,000 cattle and calves due to weather, predators, digestive problems, respiratory issues, calving and other problems. But total livestock losses attributed to wolves was 26 cattle and 33 sheep!

Last year Montana livestock producers lost more than 140,000 cattle and sheep to all causes. But total livestock losses attributed to wolves was less than a hundred animals.

In 2010 Idaho cattle producers lost 93,000 animals to all causes. Respiratory problems were the largest cause accounting for 25.6 percent of the cattle lost. Next came digestive problems, accounting for 13.4 percent of the cattle deaths. Total cattle losses attributed to wolves was 75 animals.

To suggest that wolves are a threat to the livestock industry borders on absurdity.


Worse yet, the persecution of predators does not work to reduce even these minimum conflicts as most proponents of wolf control suggest.

The reason indiscriminate killing does not work is because it ignores the social ecology of predators. Wolves, cougars, and other predators are social animals. As such, any attempt to control them that does not consider their “social ecology” is likely to fail. Look at the century old war on coyotes—we kill them by the hundreds of thousands, yet ranchers continue to complain about how these predators are destroying their industry. And the usual response assumes that if we only kill a few more we’ll finally get the coyote population “under control.”

The problem with indiscriminate killing of predators whether coyotes, wolves, cougars or bears is that it creates social chaos. Wolves, in particular, learn how and where to hunt, and what to hunt from their elders. The older pack members help to raise the young. In heavily hunted (or trapped) wolf populations (or other predators), the average age is skewed towards younger age animals . Young wolves are like teenagers—bold, brash, and inexperienced. Wolf populations with a high percentage of young animals are much more likely to attack easy prey—like livestock and/or venture into places that an older, more experience animal might avoid—like the fringes of a town or someone’s backyard.

Furthermore, wolf packs that are continuously fragmented by human-caused mortality are less stable. They are less able to hold on to established territories which means they are often hunting in unfamiliar haunts and thus less able to find natural prey. Result : they are more likely to kill livestock.

Wolf packs that are hunted also tend to have fewer members. With fewer adults to hunt, and fewer adults to guard a recent kill against other scavengers, a small pack must actually kill more prey than a larger pack. Thus hunting wolves actually contributes to a higher net loss of elk and deer than if packs were left alone and more stable.

Finally hunting is just a lousy way to actually deal with individual problematic animals. Most hunting takes place on the large blocks of public land, not on the fringes of towns and/or on private ranches where the majority of conflicts occur. In fact, hunting often removes the very animals that have learned to avoid human conflicts and pose no threat to livestock producers or human safety. By indiscriminately removing such animals which would otherwise maintain the territory, hunting creates a void that, often as not, may be filled by a pack of younger, inexperienced animals that could and do cause conflicts.


We need a different paradigm for predator management than brute force. As Albert Einstein noted, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Unfortunately, insanity has replaced rational thought when it comes to wolf management.

7 thoughts on “The Perverse Logic of Wolf Hunts

  1. What we need to remember is that farmers and ranchers are people, too, and they’re just doing what they think is in the best interest of their livelihood, regardless of the actual logic behind it. Most of them grew up hearing stories from their parents and grandparents about the evils of wolves and if we want to change that, I think we need to educate them. They do have souls, and I’ve heard stories from wildlife rehabilitation workers about a rancher who changed his mind about raccoons in a few minutes after seeing a sibling pair of infants interact. Granted, not all of them would be persuaded that easily, but I think a majority could eventually come to see wolves and other predators as what they are–God’s creatures that need to be respected like any other.

    • Your first line, “What we need to remember is that farmers and ranchers are people, too, and they’re just doing what they think is in the best interest of their livelihood, regardless of the actual logic behind it,” is the same kind of thing that was often said about slave owners. At some point people need to take responsibility for educating themselves; they don’t deserve a free pass to be ignorant in today’s world, with so much information available everywhere. But as you say, anyone can change; the author of the above post used to be a hunting guide. I don’t know if someone persuaded him to change, or if he educated himself.

      • I think Jim has this right. The whole emphasis on “educating” the miscreants that abuse wild animals to the error of their ways only makes me think “been there, done that.” Is no one here old enough to remember the 1970s when wolves became an iconic symbol in America of efforts to protect the environment? Television programs like the “The Wolfmen” and a variety of other nature documentaries promoting sympathy and respect for wild animals were ascendant, inspiring children to write to Congress and getting laws such as a ban on airborne hunting of wolves in Alaska and the wholesale killing wild horses for pet food passed and being the impetus for reintroducing wolves into the lower 48 states. Even backward states like Montana (the “Mississippi of the northwest”) were busy adding amendments to their state constitutions guaranteeing their citizens the right to a clean, sustainable natural environment. Western states sent sane, environmentally-responsible senators like Frank Church, Mike Mansfield and Gaylord Nelson to Washington.

        Now, after 40 years of non-stop “environmental educating”, trying to reach the souls and soften the hearts of animal abusers, we live in the age of Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, John Testor and Anthony Bourdain; formerly closed-to-hunting public lands being opened up to all manner of wildlife exploitation; and television shows like “Swamp People”, “Wicked Tuna”, “River Monsters”, and “Chasing Tail”, to say nothing of the execrable Outdoor Channel, dominating the airways. You be the judge of how well contemporary “education” has worked on this population of cretins.

        The most efficacious way of educating sadists and bullies is a good stiff kick to the groin followed by a wallop to the side of the head with a Louisville slugger. Maybe it is not realistic to employ that particular strategy (there perhaps not being enough Louisville sluggers to go around!), but neither is this persistent, uniquely American fiction that you can “educate” the bad out of intrinsically evil people.

      • Right, I can’t help but think that all the anti-wolf cretins (including those setting today’s state policies) have had ample exposure to the truth about the role wolves play in nature. If not, they’re willfully ignorant to their own advantage or simply evil.

  2. This article and others, often site the irrationality of humans hunting other predators who rationally and factually pose little danger to their livelihoods or self-preservation. The mentality, psychology, possible mass hysteria, behind the blood/kill/torture some humans and cultures enjoy inflicting, is what greatly and sadly puzzles me. I realize there are many factors involved in such awful (to me) activities, but perhaps there are some ‘ignition’ situations that can be addressed , used, and modified so that logic, commonsense, and empathy with others on this earth will become normal.

  3. Professor Adrian Raine a psychiatrist of criminologyat the UNIVERSITY of PENNSYLVANIA has written a book on the biological behavior of cold-blooded serial killers . “The Anatomy of Violence”
    Do Bad Brains Lead To Bad Behavior

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