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How Do Wolves Hunt? (Tactics & Predation)

Wolves hunt in packs. They’re much stronger when they work together than individually. By using advanced hunting tactics, they’re able to take down large prey.

Wolves are intelligent and social creatures. This applies to their living situation, as well as hunting.

All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts) x
All Wolfpack Ranks (Wolf Facts)

When wolves hunt, they primarily target larger ungulates, such as moose and elk. As these animals are much larger than themselves, they hunt in packs.

They use a variety of hunting tactics, such as smell and hearing for tracking, as well as exhausting their prey by chasing them for miles at a time.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into wolves’ hunting tactics.

Wolves Hunting Tactics

Wolves are one of the most efficient predators in the animal kingdom. They have adapted to hunting in packs, which makes them stronger than when hunting individually. 

Wolves will often take down much larger prey than themselves. 

Their tactics when hunting vary depending on what they are hunting and how vulnerable their prey is.

When hunting for larger prey, wolves will, first of all, chase their prey for miles to wear them out. When their prey is tired, they’ll separate, effectively surrounding their prey. They’ll test for weaknesses and lastly attack them head-on.

By biting into their shoulders or flanks, they injure their prey, increasing their odds of succeeding. Wovles know that they have to wear out the large game before they can take it down.

Wolves hunting strategy looks like this:

  1. Chase the prey animal
  2. Surround the prey
  3. Test for weaknesses
  4. Bite and take down the prey
pack of wolves against a large prey

Do Wolves Hunt in Packs?

Yes, wolves often hunt in packs, as they’re stronger together than individually. 

Sometimes wolves do also hunt individually or in pairs. When doing so, they’ll target smaller prey, as they can’t take down large animals on their own.

Chasing Their Prey

One of the things that makes wolves such successful hunters is their teamwork. Wolves will first of all chase their prey. When their prey notices them first, it’ll try and escape. It’ll run away in the hopes of getting away.

Unfortunately for their prey, wolves have excellent stamina. They can travel many miles a day without getting tired, resulting in their prey exhausting itself.

Once they’re chased it for long enough, they’ll be able to move on.

Related: How fast can a wolf run?

wolves chasing their prey

Wolves Surround Their Prey

Once their prey has tired itself out, the wolves will separate. They fan out to surround the prey, attacking it from all sides. 

By doing this, wolves make sure that their prey doesn’t get away. This increases their odds of securing a meal.

wolves in large pack

Testing for Weakness

As wolves are highly skilled predators, applying advanced strategies, they know that they can’t just attack head-on. Hence, they test for weakness first.

Wolves do so by approaching and backing off from their prey several times. They essentially figure out where they should attack first.

Biting Their Prey

Wolves use their sharp teeth and strong bite to take down their prey. When attacking larger prey, they may attack and back off several times, until the animal is injured enough to be finished off.

When hunting smaller animals, they can use their bite to wrap around their neck, either snapping their neck with a bite or shaking them until it snaps.

Related: Wolf bite force

wolves with their prey

What Do Wolves Hunt?

Wolves are carnivores, which means they primarily eat meat. They prefer to hunt for large ungulates (hoofed animals) such as deer, musk-oxen, elks, and moose. These animals provide enough food to feed the entire pack.

They may also hunt for smaller animals. They do this when the larger game is not around. Wolves need to eat at least 2 pounds of meat a day, meaning they need to hunt for several smaller animals at a time.

If there are no prey animals around, they may even eat plants or fruits.

Related: What do wolves eat?

Ungulates

Wolves prefer to hunt ungulates. Ungulates are large, hoofed animals, including deer, musk-oxen, moose, elk. [1]

When wolves hunt for ungulates, they’ll hunt with the pack. These animals are typically too large for wolves to take down alone. When hunting these animals, wolves do occasionally die, as these large animals can be very dangerous.

They prefer these larger prey animals because they provide more food for the pack.

grey wolf eating

Small Animals

Small animals play a big role in the food chain [2]. Prey provides an important source of food for carnivores like wolves, as well as scavengers like vultures. 

Wolves are known to kill deer, elk, and moose but will also eat smaller mammals such as beavers, rabbits, and rodents. Wolves can easily take down these animals by themselves.

Related: Are wolves scavengers?

Fish

When other animals aren’t present, wolves do eat fish. Fish make up an important part of wolves’ diet. They typically hunt for fish during the fall, where other animals aren’t as available.

Wolves are especially fond of salmon, just like bears. While wolves aren’t as skilled at fishing as bears, they’re still quite good at it. Wolves are also strong swimmers. [3]

lone-black-wolf-in-the-water

How Do Wolves Kill Their Prey?

Wolves primarily kill their prey using their strong bites and sharp teeth, and not sharp claws. Depending on the size of the prey, their methods may vary.

When hunting for larger prey, they will bite the animal multiple times. They bite into the flanks and shoulders to weaken the animal. Eventually, they’re able to kill the prey.

For smaller prey, they can easily kill them with a single bite. They may also bite around their neck, shaking them to break snap their neck.

Wolves don’t use their claws for killing prey. Instead, they use them for digging and running.

arctic-wolf eating

Do Wolves Die While Hunting?

Even though wolves are highly skilled predators, they may die while hunting. 

Larger animals, such as moose, elk, and similar animals can be very dangerous. These large animals use their large antlers or horns for protection, which can be fatal to wolves.

When Do Wolves Hunt?

Wolves are considered nocturnal animals, meaning they primarily hunt during the night. 

They can however easily adapt to the activity pattern of their prey. If their prey is more active at other times of the day, they may change their hunting schedule.

By hunting between dusk and dawn, they can stay hidden more easily. This way their prey won’t spot them as quickly.

Related: Are wolves nocturnal?

wolves eating

When Can Wolf Pups Hunt?

Wolf pups only start hunting once they’re six months old. At this age, they aren’t experienced enough to contribute much towards hunts and will be accompanied by an adult.

When they reach about 12 months of age, they’ll start joining in on hunting trips for larger animals.

Wolf pups learn hunting by the grown wolves. They’ll be taught the culture and hunting strategies of the wolf pack.

Related: Wolf pups

baby wolf eating

Are Wolves Carnivores?

Wolves are primarily carnivores, as they mostly eat meat.

Research shows that meat from ungulates makes up between 70-80% of wovles stock contents, depending on the location and species of the wolf.

They may also supplement their diet with vegetation, depending on the availability of prey animals. While they can’t live off of plants and fruits for extended periods of time, they can eat plants to avoid starvation for a couple of days.

Related: Are wolves omnivores, carnivores, or herbivores?

Conclusion

Wolves primarily hunt in packs, applying advanced strategies and tactics to take down large prey. They primarily hunt for ungulates, but may also prey on smaller animals.

Wolves are predators, feeding on meat from animals to survive. If there are no live animals around, they may take part in carrion-eating or eat vegetation to survive.

When hunting they chase down their prey, surround it, test for weakness, and bite their prey until it’s injured enough to kill.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.