How Do Wolves Hunt?
Like all animals, wolves need a source of food.
But how do they get that source of food? They have to hunt for it. Hunting is not just chase, bite, and kill. It is actually a very complicated and dangerous event. It is a huge privilege to watch a wolf pack go hunting, as they can go up to two weeks without eating. Before hunting, the alpha female does a practice session. She chooses a kind of prey that is most appropriate for the season.
To indicate her choice, she digs up cached food (such as a piece of hoof). Then she shows the movements of the animal. If the prey is a caribou, she will find a hoof or leg and run with it, showing how it behaves. She may whack younger, more inexperienced wolves with the hoof to show that they should watch out the the caribou’s hooves and also to stimulate a kick. Before hunting, wolves will scout out their prey.
The wolves will track their prey using only their sense of smell. Once they are close to their prey, they will start to become more discreet. During the winter, wolves have been seen to hold snow in their mouths when they are close to their prey. This helps them to avoid detection by lowering the temperature in their mouths so that their breath is not visible. A technique of hunting is intimidation.
Wolves single out their prey, such as a bison, and try to get it to run. There is less danger from hooves and horns that way. If the animal is old, sick, or very young, wolves will dash in for the kill right away. If the animal is healthy, wolves can deny their quarry food, water, rest, and herd security for up to two weeks. The wolves wound the animal by snapping at it from time to time, and eventually the prey will collapse from loss of blood and exhaustion. Once the prey has been killed, the pack feeds in an orderly and controlled manner.
The alphas do not always feed first but they decide what each wolf is to eat and when. Larger and higher ranking wolves will eat more than lower ranking wolves because they need to have the strength to act as enforcers. When the carcass of the prey is left, scraps of food will be cleaned up by birds of prey such as bald eagles. They have been seen circling above a wolf kill and then swooping down to eat after the wolves have left. When scientists first saw wolves chewing twigs and branches, it was thought that wolves were sharpening their teeth before hunting. It is now thought that they are simply cleaning their teeth after a kill.
After the wolves eat, they will have a playing and grooming session to make sure that valuable bonds are renewed after the tension and risks of the hunt. As you can see, hunting is a very risky business. Wolves can get gravely injured and even killed. But before they hunt, the alpha female will initiate a practice session. When the lesson is done, the wolves will go on the hunt. Sometimes they will catch something, sometimes they will have to go hungry.
But when the wolves do capture prey, they feed in an orderly manner. After the hunt, they will relax and unwind. All in all, that is how wolves hunt.