First on the list before setting out would be to gather information about the place you are about to visit. If you want to know how to survive a wolf attack, first you need to know if there are wolves in your chosen hiking area and what types of wolves is more likely for you to encounter.
For instance, you can check your local Fish and Wildlife Foundation‘s website to check what kind of wildlife is present in the area. Then, learn more about how you can avoid them, and what measures you can take to come back safe and sound.
If you pick a region rich in bears, check out the guide on how to avoid and survive bear attacks. If wild boars are roaming the place, arm yourself with the resources available to keep you safe from wild boars encounters. You understand how this goes.
Never leave unprepared!
- How to Survive an Animal Attack | Complete Hikers’ Guide + Infographic - Safety above all! Learn how you should respond to a wildlife encounter with our easy and fun guide.
How To Survive a Wolf Attack
and live to tell the tale
Now although wolf attacks are considered rare compared to moose or bear attacks, there seems to have been an increase of such encounters in recent years. Since 2000 more cases have been reported in Alaska and Canada as wolves reoccupied areas they had previously been removed from.
Also, most of the wolf attacks occurred in national or provincial parks where wolves were protected. Those were also places where human activities such as camping and hiking increased. When you put two and two together, you realize that knowing how to survive a wolf attack is not a whim, but a necessity. If you are serious about hiking, you should never follow the “it can’t happen to me” principle, especially if you are a beginner.
Recent Wolf Attacks
Many of you might recall the incident from last year in August in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. A family of four went camping and they were suddenly attacked by a wolf during the night while they were sleeping.
The wolf tore down their tent and Matthew, the head of the family, threw himself in front of his wife and children to protect them. The wolf bit Matthew’s hands and started to drag him away.
While Matthew tried to fight the wolf and protect his family, Russ, another camper from the site heard their screams and came to help. After he kicked the wolf, Matthew was released.
Then, the two men started screaming and threw rocks at the animal while the rest of the family made their way towards Russ’s minivan. They managed to reach a local hospital and Matthew was treated that night for his injuries.
- Surviving a Mountain Lion Attack: What you need to know - Learn how to stay safe on a trail and be prepared at all times. See our tips on how to react to mountain lion encounters and attacks.
What we’ve learned from this case – which would make an excellent backpacking horror story, let alone movie (wink, wink) if it were a piece of fiction and not a reality – is that no matter how common or uncommon wolf attacks may be, when they happen, it can result in serious injuries and even death. I cannot stress enough the importance of being well informed and prepared on how to handle such situations.
Let’s first start with some general information on wolves, the different types and where they can be found geographically, their behavior regarding humans and then we’ll move on to tips on how to respond to a wolf encounter or wolf pack attack.
- It also goes by the name of gray/grey wolf.
- In scientific terms it is called Canis lupus.
- Wolves have an average life span of 6 to 8 years.
- Although weight can vary greatly depending on the region, on average, males weigh between 95-99 pounds and the average for females is 79-85 pounds. In some rare cases, they can weigh up to 170 pounds – so a few times larger than coyotes and more dangerous to boot.
- In terms of size, their body ranges between 1.2-2 meters including the tail.
- When it comes to speed, they can reach up to 40 miles per hour during a chase.
- They live mostly in a pack and they usually hunt in a pack as well. They are carnivores and eat animals such as deer, moose, elk, wild boar, even birds, lizards, fish, rabbits, beavers. In other words, they are predators to the predators you should fear when hiking and backpacking the wilderness. Did I stress enough how dangerous wolves are and how fast and painfully they can harm/kill you if you take them lightly?
Species of wolf
you may encounter
Before we learn together how to survive a wolf attack, we should know the wolf species you might encounter in your adventures.
Scientists still disagree on the classification of the types of wolves. Some consider the red wolf for example as a subspecies of the grey wolf as molecular studies have shown, while others consider it a totally different species. Regardless of the debate, we comprised below a list with some of the most well-known types:
Gray wolf (Canis lupus)
People also know it as the timber wolf. Scientifically, it is thought that many other subspecies derive from it. Canis lupus is the largest in size from all the canid species. It can be found in the United States, Canada, Alaska, some regions of Europe, and Asia.
Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos)
It is only found in the Arctic and Greenland. It is a subspecies of the grey wolf, it has white-yellowish fur and smaller compared to other types of wolves.
Red wolf (Canis rufus)
Thought of either as a different species from the gray wolf, or as a hybrid between the gray wolf and a coyote. It is a critically endangered species, found in some areas of the United States.
Tundra wolf (Canis lupus albus)
Often hunted for their fine fur, they can be found in Asia, northern Europe and in the arctic regions of Russia.
Indian wolf (Canis indica)
It prefers semi-desert areas and can be found in India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. It is slender and weighs less than the other species.
Himalayan wolf (Canis himalayensis)
It can be found in the north of India and in Nepal. As their names might suggest, they like to live in mountain areas.
Eastern wolf (Canis Lycaon)
Its alternate name is Algonquin wolf. It is found in Canada, in the south-eastern parts. Because of deforestation, they are considered an endangered species.
Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi)
It is a subspecies of the gray wolf; it prefers temperate forest areas and deserts. It is native to southern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, northern Mexico and west Texas.
When do wolves attack humans?
if it happens
- When injured they can act in an aggressive way
- When they feel cornered
- They can be defensive around the den and rendezvous places
Wolves that become too comfortable around humans and people that act in a passive manner around these animals give rise to the phenomenon of habituation. It basically means that wolves tolerate close approaches by people. Sometimes it can be the wolves that initiate the approach out of curiosity.
Although it doesn’t sound dangerous at first, these wolves that have become habituated can actually exhibit sudden aggressive behavior. Why does this happen? To put it shortly, wolves become relaxed and free of inhibitions and they react to humans in the same way they would react to a packmate. This includes their social behavior of being either playful or aggressive in order to dominate another member of the group.
If wolves start searching for food near human campsites or places with human activity, they have become food-conditioned. And if people show only a passive reaction, then that gives way for the animals to become habituated.
The problem arises when the animals don’t find the expected food. Because they were used to being provided with food by humans, when they no longer receive it, they become more willful and they approach people even closer. And from there, they’re only one step away from turning aggressive.
This virus can be found in wolves that interact with other infected species of animals such as foxes. The rabies virus determines the wolves to lose inhibition and fear towards humans. Also, the animals might start exhibiting aggressive behavior.
Rabies can be passed down to humans and is almost always fatal. If ever bitten or had any contact with the animal’s saliva, you should immediately report to your local health care provider.
What to do if you encounter a wolf
in the wild
- When injured they can act in an aggressive way
- When they feel cornered
- They can be defensive around the den and rendezvous places
First of all, traveling in a group is much safer so make sure to bring enough people along.
If you do run into a wolf, don’t stare it down. Avoid making direct eye contact or staring at it. They will most likely see this as a challenging behavior. On the same note, don’t show your teeth either.
Do not turn your back towards it! Continue facing it while retreating slowly.
If it starts to snarl, growl and lunge towards you, you need to switch to a more aggressive behavior to make it back off. You need to show it you’re not an easy target.
Do not allow the wolf to get any closer than 100 meters. Try to scare the animal away. Try to appear bigger than you are by raising your hands and make noise, yell, clap your hands and throw rocks at the wolf.
Do not run! This can trigger their hunting instincts.
Continue to act aggressively – yell, throw rocks.
Be careful not to fall or bend down for too long. You will appear small and easy to attack.
If in a group, act together to discourage the animal.
If there is more than one wolf and you are with a companion, place yourselves back to back and begin to move slowly away from them.
Bring with you and use air horns or any other devices that make noise.
Bring and use wolf repellent if the situation dictates it. Bear spray also works. However, do make sure you know how to use it before going for a hike.
Consider climbing trees and waiting for the wolf to leave. You might be stuck there for quite some time, but it’s still better than being attacked. Tree climbing can also work when you try to avoid and survive a boar attack, but never when you try to avoid a bear attack, no matter what movies and cartoons taught you until now.
How to survive a wolf attack
If attacked, fight back with anything you have at hand. Use poles or any items at hand to deter the wolf. Aim for the nose and face as these are highly sensitive.
Consider carrying some sort of weapon on you. A knife of a decent size can help you buy some time to escape. As you probably know, a multi-functional knife should always find its place in your winter hiking backpack. However, if you decide to hike or camp in an area with wolves, a good knife is crucial when it comes to gear. In case of a wolf attack, even a couple of professional trekking poles might help in your fighting back efforts.
Coastal Wolf Habitat
If you plan on hiking, camping or going kayaking in coastal wolf habitat, you should take extra precautions. Avoid camping or recreational activities where seals or sea lion carcass washed ashore as wolves are known to feed on these.
Dishes should be washed away from your camping area.
Do not clean fish where you camp or near the camp. Dispose all fish carcasses out to sea.
How to Survive A Wolf Attack: Frequently Asked Questions
Before we leave you packing for your next hiking or camping trip, let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding wolf attacks and how to manage them the best way possible! It is a good occasion to summarize everything we learned so far in this guide.
1. Are wolves afraid of fire?
Most wolves are afraid of fire and avoid fire and smoke in general. If you hike in spring, the wolves in the area are likely to have pups to care for and protect. For this reason, if you make fire or try to scare a pack of wolves with torches, it is more likely for them to go away or leave the den if the breeding wolf mothers start fearing for their pups’ lives.
2. How do you scare off a wolf that came too close to you?
Do not ever turn your back at it and run away, because you will make things worse. On the other hand, if you can scare a wolf with fire, do it. Otherwise, yell and scream, wave your arms, make a lot of noise in its direction, throw rocks at it, etc. The general idea is to make yourself look bigger and meaner than it is. Wolves tend to become more submissive in the presence of other creatures that exert dominance.
3. Should you look a wolf in the eyes?
Dog owners and breeders know that if you stare a dog in its eyes, you will dominate it eventually and show it who is the one in charge. However, do not do this the same thing with wolves, as these fierce beasts may take your staring as a provocation and a challenge. If you ever wondered what does it mean when a wolf is stares at you, the answer is this: it says “come at me, bro!” Wolves stare other wolves in the eyes to display status, power, and rank in the pack. Two wolves staring at each other means a fight. If you don’t want a wolf to believe you are the one challenging its territory, rank, and strength, do not look it in the eyes, no matter what your loving, bonding pooch taught you back at home.
How to Survive a Wolf Attack: Conclusion
In brief, wolf attacks are not that common but nonetheless, as we venture out and explore the great outdoors, it’s always a great idea to be prepared to face any type of situation. Research the types of wildlife that exist in your area, learn how to avoid and respond to each animal encounter. If you want to learn more about survival in the great outdoors, we also recommend you the following guides:
- How to survive a wild boar attack;
- Avoiding and surviving coyote attacks;
- How to safely manage a moose encounter;
- Surviving a bear attack and living to tell the story;
- How to survive a bee attack – no matter how unlikely you think it is.
As for how to survive a wolf attack, remember that you can never be too careful. Do your homework and do not ever consider wolves some sort of untamed puppies. More than the subject of cool and cute memes, wolves are among the fiercest killers of the wild.