Wolf experts say predators rarely indulge in surplus killing, but Orofino man who logs extensive time in Idaho’s backcountry is not convinced

Here is an article which discusses the “surplus killing” that all wolves must be doing. In reality it is a myth that is hard wired in many of those in anti-wolf crowd along with the myth about the 250 lb wolf and the “fact” that the Canadian wolves are larger than the wolves which previously inhabited the Northern Rockies.

Wolf experts say predators rarely indulge in surplus killing, but Orofino man who logs extensive time in Idaho’s backcountry is not convinced 
By Eric Barker / The Lewiston Tribune


Wolf eating road-killed deer


Wolf eating road-killed deer

I have added some gruesome photos but they make the point. Wolves return to their kill and consume the carcass over the course of a few days. Ken Cole.
Elk calf carcass Day 1. Click to see image 
Elk calf carcass Day 2. Click to see image 

I did not witness the killing of this calf however it happened just 200 yards from the camp trailer I was sleeping in. I woke up to the sound of elk outside my trailer and looked out the window to see that there was a carcass nearby. Later that afternoon two wolves came back to the carcass to feed and the next morning there was only skin and bone left, also the skull was completely gone.

Another thing that is not often mentioned is that wolves will even eat road-killed deer. Here are photos of a wolf from the Buffalo Ridge Pack eating from a road killed deer that I set up a motion camera next to. This deer was horrible smelling and had been laying next to a busy highway for a few days. The carcass was moved and it was fully consumed by the wolves.

12 Responses to “Overkill?”

  1. Kibby Says:

    I’m kinda puzzled. Is this man saying that these ‘dead elk’ were wolf-killed? I’ve been in Yellowstone and seen winter-killed bison that, for some reason or other, nothing will touch. Bears just emerged from their dens walk by. The ravens won’t even peck out the eyes. It’s as if there’s something unhealthy about the carcass.

    If they were wolf-killed, it would be nice to know: did this man watch the carcasses over a period of time? Or did he just see a few wolves walking past on a certain day and extrapolate that they were never going to feed on their kills? Yes, wolves do occasionally engage in surplus killing, but so do ALL predators. And yet elk and other deer are still around after all these millions of years. I think that fact speaks for itself.

  2. Bob Caesar Says:

    If nothing else a great way to break up the long winter of logging in the deep woods – by getting your name in the paper! This fellow grabs headlines by making the assumption since he’s seen 4 dead elk in one place, during the deep winter, that wolves must have killed them. Everyone knows – the ONLY way elk die in the winter is if a wolf kills them!

    I recall an article in the JH paper years ago showing a pile of dead elk, with a quote from a hunting outfitter claiming wolves had killed the elk AND put the carcasses in a pile. Turned out the elk died of natural causes at a Wyoming G&F feed ground and the G&F officers hauled them away to be burned.

    Here is the quote from the logger, “Sometimes you see three or four dead elk. You can see all of them at one time and maybe one or two will have a little bit chewed off of them and others have nothing,” he said. “I have seen wolves come back by there and there is a lot of meat left on them and they walk right by them. I’m not saying it happens 100 percent of the time, but there is a lot of them they walk right by.”

    The other amazing thing is that he sees so many wolves even though he is using snowmobiles and whatever other loud machinery he uses to log, e.g. chain saws, winches, etc. He must be one talented or lucky wildlife observer, or the wolves he sees are deaf. If he is that good he should get a job-guiding wolf watching trips in Yellowstone!

  3. JimT Says:

    I would love to see honest debates between these fear mongers and real wolf experts like Doug Smith at Yellowstone Institute, but I suspect it is a useless thing to hope for since facts don’t seem to matter to the wolf haters.

    I had a chance to talk with Doug with some other folks last summer on a trip there, and we asked about this so called killing for fun, or killing more than they could eat at one setting. He said wolves are opportunistic predators; they don’t know when their next meal is, so they take advantage when they can. He also said the pack will come back to the kill site and feed repeatedly IF the site is left alone..in other words, safe. But that doesn’t happen, so these myths get created and then harden into alleged facts to justify an already formed policy of no wolves, no way by the large majority of the grazing community.

    We were lucky enough to see the Druids feed on bison remains..no word from the rangers if it was a wolf kill or not. Bison even wandered over a few times to within several yards of the kill with the wolves feeding, but there were no confrontations.

  4. Hoosier Says:

    “The biologists say when wolves do kill several elk or deer at one time it is usually because of unusual conditions like exceptionally deep snow that makes the prey animals more vulnerable. Wolves are programmed take advantage of those situations, partly because elk are difficult to kill. Smith said wolves are successful only about 10 percent to 20 percent of the time.”

    I find the statement 10 to 20 percent success rate hard to believe. Perhaps someone could better explain how they arrive at this number. I am an avid vistor to Yellowstone several times each year. I can recall countless times waking up to a new day and finding a pack on a new kill from the previous night. I will agree that wolves from my experience do return and feed on a carcus numerous times, but at what sucess? Wolves as pack are condsidered a top preditor species, and 20% at best sucess rate is 1 to 5 attempts.

    I have watched as wolves have tested elk herds with no kill, but also with little intent after lack of a weak animal is found. I also have seen countless carcus’s and according to these numbers the wolves would have made on average 5 attempts before making this kill. When a wolf pack is hungry and they need to make a kill they will or they will starve very simple. They test the herd find a animal, seperate it from the herd, and make the kill. Understanding that some pursuits may take in several miles or hours, but success is in the kill.

    I guess what I am asking is what is this figure derived from? If wolves fail upwards of 90% of the time then it would seem that a 1 kill every 2 days for 10+ wolves (that has in the past been assumed) would be less than accurate.

    On the flip side if a pack chases 5 different elk and of the five they get one I guess those numbers work. A wolf pack is not as opportunistic as a coyote for instance, as they often “piggy back” a kill wolves have made. Bears are the same to a point. As has been observed when a bear will often times take a kill from the pack. Other observations backing this are the numerous number of bears at various carcus’s feeding sometimes together or with little conflict. This shows that a surpluss of meat for the bear population has lead to less bear to bear conflict at the kill site. My point being wolves must have very high success rates because of their pack composition, and diet. No other preditor is available for the wolf to “piggy back” as with my statements above.

    My conclusion and please comment would be that wolves must be successful near 33%+ of the time in order to survive(1 kill on average every other day). When hunting they must make a kill at least every 2-3 days for a pack larger than 10 or else they would starve. This would indicate a success rate of 33%+, or from that take a 10% success rate and you get 1 kill every 10 days. Not enough for a large pack to survive on.

  5. Ralph Maughan Says:

    Every winter in Yellowstone they do winter studies of wolves. Scores of volunteers are trained and they are out all day, almost every day watching the selected packs chase, kill and eat. They also tally how much of a kill is lost to scavengers.

    They have very detailed statistics, and you can find them in the annual Yellowstone wolf reports.

    “Success” — a kill — per chase varies from winter to winter and is higher in late winter than early winter.

    It is much more difficult to study wolves in the summer, although it is generally accepted that kill rates are lower. The kills are not very visible in the summer.

    Wolves reach their peak weight for the year in April or May. Then they lose weight the rest of the year until about Nov.-Dec (that too depends on the winter).

    I think the wolves outside the Park generally (meaning exceptions) have an easier time because they can usually rely on gut piles and wounded elk and deer in the fall from the human hunt.

  6. Ralph Maughan Says:

    Thanks for the photos Ken. They are a lot of photos out there that people have taken on day 1 as they happened upon a carcass, and decided the wolves were done with the kill. They took a photo, and said, “see the wolves don’t eat all they kill.”

  7. Hoosier Says:


    Thank you for the response. I am still unclear on the information that is being relayed. Perhaps if I quailfy myself better since I rarely comment here mosty just reading. I have a college education with a business degree and have been an AVID outdoorsman, sportsman, hunter, volenteer, and consevationist for a better part of my young life. (I am 26 years old) I don’t just run to the park to see Old Faithful I go for the WILDLIFE. The group of many volenteers that you are talking about what type of “training” are they put through? I do not live close enough to the park to go more than 3 times a year, but my field notes for the past 7 years are rather in-depth. Many of the folks that volenteer are people that have a spotting scope, radio (UHF/VHF), and just enjoy watching these animals.

    Most of these people follow Rick around since he can track collared animals. I am not tyring in any way to discredit these people, but rather I would mention that my observations and others (including the reason for this article) are accurate as well! I will generally sit in Lamar or Hayden 8+ hours each day observing and noting what I am seeing. This information is crediable as well as what is coming from the wolf project. I do feel that some of the information is left out as to not give wolves a negative image though. That is where my instrest lie in saying I feel there are several facts that are not considered. (In my previous commments is my reference) Just this last May I am sitting at Dorthy’s pullout looking behind me at a very nerves acting elk herd. I am the only person in the lot eveyone else including Rick are at the institue pullout looking behind on the high ridges. Rick is outside waving his tracker in the air and must be getting nothing. So he and the rest of the gang leave. With in minutes the Druids bust the herd and begin pushing them toward the road (14 wolves according to my notes). Everyone has left the pullouts including Rick, we are alone. A single black collard (302M as best I can tell him) pushes a cow elk down the hill and through the lot where Rick and the gang was park, but they had all left near minutes before. This is the kind of info that is being missed more often than not. I have some great notes on the event and from best I can tell am the only person (including my mother and grandfather) to have witnessed. For this instance I think Rick relied on tracking more than patience. (no need to defend him notice the word “instance”)

    What is missed, miss represented, unrelated, or unaccurate about previous studies is my quest. Case in point many reports once said that a breeding pairs bred for life. Some misleading information stated that only the alphas breed, but then of course 302 proves that wrong.

    I have spent countless hours sitting directly next the many of the wolf project memebers in the field. I am not part of there “team” beacause of those people discredit outside opinion. I can remember one time speaking with someone about a wolf that I had observed. I gave them the location and they told me “you saw a coyote, no wolves are in that area very often”. After a short dispute that what I saw was a wolf this gentleman still blew me off. So I went to the car got my camera and proved my crediabilty to him.

    I am disputing some of this information not to be difficult, but show that whether you are in the project or not other people are credible. I think we have more to learn about wolves than one could begin to know and that we have only scratched the surface. However, bear in mind just because you volenteer and sit through a class or two, or maybe you are friends with Doug or Rick…this doesn’t make you a valid source.

    I think that what Rick and Doug do is great as with many of the volenteers, but they too can learn somethings for people like me. I admire their dedication and would work there in a heartbeat. I would make this statement though:
    For the tourist that my only see Lamar once the information they provide is priceless, but for me there is alot more to the wolf than is sometimes being protrayed.

  8. ProWolf in WY Says:

    Kibby and Bob I couldn’t have said it better myself. Also, don’t a lot of anti-wolf people always say that pro-wolf people use too much emotion and not enough rational thought? Seems like these big bad wolf stories are kind of emotional. How can someone make this argument that wolves are bad? They came back to eat the carcass of the elk. Oh no! That seems to prove that they are not wasteful. They ate a road killed deer. Oh no! Doesn’t that make an argument that maybe they are not wanton killers if they are eating something that is already dead?

    I also want to ask. Where are these 250 pound wolves getting their steroids? Is that a conspiracy by the Canadian government to undermine the US food supply? Are these wolves breeding with St. Bernards?

  9. Ralph Maughan Says:


    I don’t know the exact orientation they get, but they are given a specific method of where to look, how to to count and which packs.

    In other words they get specific training and instruction. They are issued equipment. They don’t bring their own.

    Most winters Doug Smith and team choose two easy to spot northern range packs to study. This winter the Druids were the only large pack available, although they might have settled on 302’s new pack for the second one. Someone might be able to help out here.

  10. BobCaesar Says:

    While we touch on the subject of wolf researcher, Rick McIntire (I am not a member of his club), no one does more to introduce wolves to even the most casual visitor to Yellowstone than does McIntyre. When you see Rick’s ugly, yellow SUV pulled over in the Lamar Valley all you need to do is ask him (or his clan of Ricksters) and they’ll point out where, when and how to find wolves. Including looking through their spotting scopes. Their biggest contribution to the cause of the wolf is all about public relations. The more people that see wolves in the wild the more people will support them.

  11. Hoosier Says:

    I agree with Bob 100% it was Rick that showed me my first wolf, and I can’t seem to get enough of them.

    Ralph thank you for your interest in my questions. Do to my work schedule I will not be in the park again until May. Perhaps you will be there I would like to meet you.

    Also off the subject there is a man named Ralph that helps out with the bear project does anyone have in more info on him? I would like to get ahold of him I have some information that would maybe benefit the program.

  12. Barb Says:

    I find it ironic that wolf opponents will say it’s “un-natural” to reintroduce a species that’s been gone for 100 years and that wolf supporters are Disney-esque/Zoo-ish in their viewpoint– that we don’t understand how dangerous predators can be. I would wager than mountain lions are much more dangerous than wolves but we’ve lived with them.

    It’s really been far more un-natural to live without wolves for the past 100 years, as livestock interests and others are the ones who have been living in and demanding an un-natural, Disney-esque environment.

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