The Strength of the Pack

Dangerous Work

Yellowstone wolves prefer elk as their prey, but they also occasionally eat other ungulates like mule deer, moose, and bighorn sheep. It's possible that they also hunt smaller prey such as beavers and hares. Some Yellowstone wolf packs have learned to hunt the largest, most dangerous prey in the park: bison!

Wolves evolved as a predator of large hoofed mammals. A tightly organized social structure enables them to work cooperatively to bring down prey that are much larger than themselves. Hunting hoofed animals is dangerous work and wolves can easily be injured or killed on the hunt.

Wolves can trot at 8 kph (5 mph) for long periods of time while hunting or traveling within their territory. A wolf pack may spend eight hours a day on the move, covering 64 km (40 miles) a day during winter hunts. Wolves can sprint at nearly 64 kph (40 mph) for short periods of time.

Wolves are opportunistic and usually kill what is easiest to catch, such as the weak, sick, injured, old, and very young. Wolves also scavenge carrion. They only take healthy, strong animals when circumstances allow or require it. Wolves outside of the park may prey on domestic livestock which creates conflict with humans.

Learn about PREY

Hunting in WolfQuest

Wolves preferred prey is elk but if you are a lone wolf or hunting your mate, you will need to be strategic. Wolves first test the herds before they choose a target – usually a young, old, or weakened elk. Only about 10% of hunts are successful in the real world!

Mule deer are smaller and less dangerous but they are very fast and can easily keep ahead of wolves, stotting and changing directions in a single bound.

Moose are less common. They are also huge and cranky. They tend to stand their ground so it is less chase and more dodge.

Bighorn sheep (coming soon!) will require strategy and a lot of luck, since they stay close to steep terrain where they are safe.

Snowshoe hares can provide a small snack. Yellowstone wolves don't bother with smaller prey, for the most part, but when a wolf is hungry...

Bison are extremely dangerous to hunt. Only large, experienced packs tackle the largest land mammal in North America. A bison carcass can feed a pack for a long while, provided the pack can keep it from the competition.

Hunting in WolfQuest

Locating & Taking Down Prey

Elk (your favorite prey) are usually found up on the ridges of Amethyst Mountain during the autumn and move to lower elevations in the winter. Herds vary in size from 8 to 30, and include a bull, cows, calves, and spikes (young bulls). There are also small bachelor bull herds. Elk calves are the easiest for a lone wolf to tackle.

Once you’ve found a herd, you’ll need to scare them into flight, as trying to bring down an elk in the middle of a herd that is standing its ground is unwise. Running at the herd, growling, and other aggressive actions will increase the chances of the herd beginning to flee. As a lone wolf, you aren’t all that scary, and larger elk herds might refuse to flee.

Scent view is your primary tool for finding prey and avoiding the competition. Follow the floating scent particles upwind or tracks to locate your quarry.

Once the herd is in flight, you’ll need to choose your target. You can detect the health of a given elk by biting it. Once detected, you can see their health using either the small targeting circle, which will shrink as their health decreases, or their health bar. The circles will allow you to quickly survey the elk you’ve bitten, and easily pick the weakest of the herd.

Once you’ve chosen your target, bite it, and hang on as long as you can. Try to do as much damage as you can to it before it stops running, as once a calf stops running, its mother will have an easier time protecting it. Elk mothers are far deadlier than calves, and avoiding the hooves of the mother is your primary goal once the showdown begins.

Because the mother can break your hold on the calf, darting in for quick bites before darting out is your best strategy. Continue to look for chances to sneak a bite in while dodging the mother’s attacks, and you will be able to bring down the elk calf, scoring yourself a meal.

Hunting hoofed animals is a risky business as ungulate hooves and antlers are formidable weapons. A lone wolf might choose to tackle smaller, less dangerous prey like mule deer – if they can catch them!

screenshot credit: nospectral

Carcass Competition

Dinner is served!

A large kill provides a lot of meat for a wolf pack. Living in a "feast or famine" world, wolves often go several days without successfully making a kill, but they can gorge themselves and can quickly consume 9 kg (20 lbs) of meat each. Wolfing down your food is a handy skill in Yellowstone since there are so many uninvited guests happy to come to your dinner party.

In fact, Yellowstone wolves don’t usually move or cache carcasses. They concentrate on keeping control of the main buffet until their bellies are full or they are driven away by a hungry bear or stranger wolves.

Bears, coyotes, ravens, eagles, foxes, and other animals benefit from wolf kills… and they don’t take long to arrive. Ravens are even known to follow wolves on the hunt so they can be next in line. Every animal is alert at carcasses, assessing the risks vs. rewards. Since it is hard to eat and fight at the same time, you will have to decide in the game whether you should dine or dash!

NPS / Jacob W. Frank