If you’re planning a hike in the mountains of the western U.S., you may be concerned about encountering wolves. Read on to learn how to survive a wolf attack, as well as to better understand why and how wolves attack in the first place.
What You'll Learn Today
How Do Wolves Attack?
When wolves are hunting, they usually do so in packs. If you find yourself getting attacked by one wolf, there will probably be more nearby.
Wolves hunt by stalking their prey, out of sight at first but eventually circling until they have the prey surrounded. They will then attack, ripping open the prey’s flesh, causing it to die over a period of minutes from shock, tissue damage, and blood loss.
It’s worth noting that wolves don’t usually see humans as prey, so if they attack humans they may do so more cautiously. Still, a wolf attack can be extremely dangerous, as wolves’ powerful teeth and claws can cause serious injury and even death.
Wolves usually begin stalking humans from a distance, keeping out of sight. Once you have spotted the wolves, it means they wanted you to see them, perhaps as a warning for you to get off their territory or away from their young.
Even before you see them, you may hear them barking, growling, or making other warning noises to leave the area. If you don’t heed the warning, the wolves may attack, circling you before charging and ripping into you with their claws and teeth.
Wolves are not inherently aggressive toward humans though. They tend to show the greatest amount of aggression when they are protecting young–so if you get too close to their dens, especially during April through July, you may be at greater risk of getting attacked.
Wolves rarely attack humans traveling in groups, so you will be safer if you don’t wander into wolf territory alone.
What Do You Do if You Encounter a Wolf?
The best way to survive a wolf attack is to avoid one in the first place. But because wolves tend to stay out of sight unless they feel threatened, you may not even realize you’re in a wolf’s territory until it’s too late.
Whenever you’re hiking or camping in wolf country, it’s extremely important to be aware of your surroundings. Look for:
- Wolf tracks: A wolf’s paw print is easily recognizable and looks much like that of a large dog. If you see wolf tracks in the snow or mud, especially if they look fresh, it might be a good idea to head in the opposite direction.
- Droppings: Wolf droppings, or scat, may be fairly widespread in and near a wolf pack’s den site. The scat looks similar to the droppings of a large dog, and if you see a lot of it in a relatively small area, you’ll want to cautiously leave the area.
- Gnawed bones: Wolves will often chew on the bones of their prey. If you find an area with scattered bones, especially if the bones look chewed up or gnawed on, there’s a good chance you’ve found your way into a wolf pack’s territory.
- Large animal dens: Wolves tend to build their dens underneath low-growing trees and shrubs or in embankments. If you find a hollowed-out, matted down area that is about 1 ½ to 2 feet in diameter, it may be a wolf’s den and you’ll want to leave immediately.
Of course, it’s important to pay attention and look out for these telltale signs of wolf presence, but even the most observant hiker can be taken by surprise. What can you do if you suddenly find yourself stalked or surrounded by a wolf pack?
Can a Human Survive a Wolf Attack?
Wolves are fierce predators, but any time they decide to attack humans, they are displaying an irregular amount of aggression. It is possible for a human to survive this attack, but they will probably be left with some serious injuries that will require prompt medical attention.
Wolves kill their prey by causing both internal and external injuries, which in turn cause the animal to bleed to death. A wolf’s teeth and claws can do a lot of damage, and any human that finds itself in their clutches is at risk of receiving the same injuries as any prey animal.
Both internal and external bleeding can lead to excessive blood loss, shock, and death. If you are attacked by a wolf, it’s important to quickly staunch any visible blood flow and get to a hospital immediately if you suspect internal injuries of any kind.
Of course, the first step is to get away from the wolf, as wolves are perfectly capable of killing humans if they have a mind to do so.
How Do You Survive a Wolf Encounter?
As noted above, injuries from a wolf attack can be severe, and your best chance of survival is to avoid getting attacked in the first place. But how do you do that?
If you encounter a wolf, back away slowly; do not turn and run, as this will encourage the wolf to chase you. If the wolf sees you as you are backing away, maintain eye contact the whole time; do not look away or take your eyes off the wolf.
An important thing to remember is you want to appear strong, tough, and predator-like. Do not give the wolf any reason to think you are a weak target or easy prey.
If the wolf approaches you, try to make yourself look big and tough. Yell or make growling noises while continuing to back away slowly.
Try to avoid fighting the wolf at all costs. Maintain your distance if possible, but do not turn your back on the wolf or make any sudden movements.
If possible, climb up into a tree. Wolves cannot climb trees, so you will be relatively safe up in a tree until the wolf leaves and you are able to climb back down.
For more tips on how to survive a wolf attack, check out the video below:
How to Fight a Wolf with Bare Hands
Anytime you’re trekking through wolf territory, it’s a good idea to carry a stick, knife, pepper spray, or some other weapon in case you have to fight a wolf or some other predator. But if you don’t have a weapon and are forced to fight with your bare hands, here are some tips:
- Only fight in self-defense: If you see a wolf, do not show any aggression toward it unless it is actively attacking you. You should never attempt to fight a wolf unless your life is in immediate danger and you are defending yourself.
- Attempt to choke the wolf: When a wolf attacks, try to get your hands or arms wrapped around its neck. This will hopefully immobilize the wolf and cause it to lose consciousness due to lack of oxygen.
- Target vital areas: When actively engaged in a fight with a wolf, aim your blows or kicks for sensitive areas that will sustain a lot of pain or damage. The kidneys, ribs, and eyes are all good spots to target.
- Break bones: Breaking the wolf’s bones may take some extra force or effort, but if nothing else is slowing the attack, this may be your best option. Broken bones, especially leg and rib bones, will cause the wolf to recoil and slow its attack, giving you time to escape.
- Don’t panic: Whatever happens, don’t allow the wolf to see your fear. Keep a level head, attempt to intimidate the wolf, and most importantly, keep calm.
Do Wolves Attack Humans for No Reason?
According to Conservation Northwest, wolves prefer to avoid humans. Because of this, they rarely, if ever, attack for no reason.
The reason for a wolf attack may not be readily apparent if you are the one under attack, but there is almost always a reason. Some reasons why wolves may attack humans include:
- The wolf sees the human as a threat: If you are in a wolf’s territory, the wolf may turn aggressive in an attempt to protect that territory. Wolves will also fight back if you show aggression first or attempt to pick a fight with them.
- The wolf is protecting its young: Wolves are much like humans when it comes to protecting their babies and dens. Think about it: if some strange creature was approaching your home with your children inside, wouldn’t you do whatever you had to do to keep the kids safe?
- The wolf is starving: Wolves almost never hunt humans for food, but if food is in short supply or the wolf hasn’t eaten in days or weeks, it may be desperate enough to hunt the next human that stumbles into its territory.
What Are Wolves Afraid Of?
Wolves are typically afraid of humans; this is why they usually try to avoid people rather than attack them.
Wolves are also afraid of other things they may not be used to encountering in the wild, including cars and non-native predators.
Wolves are generally shy animals that would prefer to hide. They will typically only attack while hunting or when they feel threatened.
The best way to survive a wolf attack is to avoid being attacked, but this isn’t always possible. If you can’ prevent the attack, use some sort of weapon to fight off the animal, or use your bare hands to target sensitive or vital areas of the wolf’s body.