US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



Arctic (2015) DOI: 10.144430/arctic4534


Among nature’s compelling interactions is the pursuit of prey by wolves. Both predator and prey are well adapted to the interaction, and for those fortunate to witness such an event, it may unfold as a spectacular and dramatic scene with multiple attempts by the prey to escape, and swift, relentless, and persistent attack by the wolves. The book, Wolves on the Hunt: The Behavior of Wolves Hunting Wild Prey, by L. David Mech, Douglas W. Smith, and Daniel R. MacNulty, represents a collection of wolf hunting observations. These observations come in the form of written narratives and supporting videos available online, from which the authors infer the behaviors of wolves as they hunt prey and the defenses of prey and evaluate what factors affect the success or failure of the hunt. The authors are well qualified on the subject: Mech has studied wolves for more than 50 years and is an internationally recognized wolf authority, Smith has documented the dynamics of wolves and their prey following wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park for more than 20 years, and MacNulty has devoted much of his research to understanding wolf hunting behavior.

Chapter 1 introduces the wolf as a hunter. Wolf adaptations to hunting are described. Included is that wolves may range far and wide to locate vulnerable prey, with an impressive rate of travel of 8.7 km/hr and total distances of 76 km in 12 hours mentioned. Besides physical adaptations for capturing prey, such as keen olfactory senses, fasting ability (up to 17 days without eating), body size, and bite force, wolves employ the advantage of working together and may use cognitive strategies or hunting strategy to tip the scales in their favor. Wolves are quick learners, and the strategies of ambushing prey, using a decoy wolf to distract prey, and driving prey toward hidden wolves or into favorable terrain have all been described. Despite all of this, however, most often the hunt ends in failure for the wolf. Importantly, this dispels the common perception that wolves kill whenever and whatever they want. Specific defenses of prey to wolf hunting are left for description in the subsequent chapters.