The new Liam Neeson movie, “The Grey” has stirred up the folks at PETA and other assorted animal activists groups who are quick to assure you that wolves are basically harmless to humans and more scared of us than we are of them. They like to point out that there are only two documented cases where people have been killed by wolves in North America.
Well that’s a bit of statistical semantics that doesn’t include the thousands of wolf attacks and killings reported worldwide. Seems the activists only count cases where CSI investigated. It’s a terribly misleading statistic as is the advice these folk give you for dealing with an attack.
One “activist” confidently explained that all you have to do is look big and scary and wolves will run away. Yeah, right! Tell that to the two people whose killings were "documented" in the past seven years (not the past century as claimed). It seems wolf-related killings before 2005 aren't sufficiently "documented" to count. Besides, if a wolf attack were to be successful, the wolves would tear you to pieces, eat you and bury the bones in a manner worthy of a determined serial killer.
Wolves eat meat. You are meat. If you go where wolf packs hunt, you put yourself on their hunting grounds looking and smelling quite delicious. Here’s how to avoid becoming the third “documented” wolf victim in North America.
If you’re traveling in wolf country, carry a gun. Know how to use it. You need something with stopping power. A .22 will discourage a single attacker if it’s not very big, but you can wind up badly hurt before a determined large predator like a cougar, bear or wolf notices. Also, it’s easy to miss with a handgun. High powered rifles have a lot of stopping power, but against a determined pack can only get one at a time and the others might not notice that one or two of their number is missing before they swarm you. If I wanted to carry a defensive weapon, a 12-gauge assault style shotgun – one that can get off multiple rounds of heavy buckshot in just a few seconds. If they get close you can do some damage. Even at a distance, a hail of buckshot would be thoroughly discouraging – enough to break up the pack’s focus on you as potential prey.
Even if walking or jogging it’s a good idea to carry some sort of hand weapon, a decent sized knife or a walking stick can buy you time against a pack. Wolves don’t like to take big risks. They prefer to chase their prey into boggy areas, deep snow or slippery surfaces where the footing is bad. A walking stick with a point on it or a lead core in one end and buy you some space to maneuver. A knife has some limited value, but it would be much better on the end of a stick. Close in fighting styles are not terribly effective when you are surrounded by a frantic pack of wolves. You want something that will keep them away from your legs and arms and groin.
Pepper spray will discourage wolves if you get their eyes and have enough for everybody. A couple of little spritzes will probably only make ‘em mad. Mace is illegal for use against humans, but I’d prefer it to pepper spray against wolves. Again you want to keep them away from you so you have room to maneuver toward a tree or to high firm ground you can defend. Me, if I'm going to spray a wolf pack with something it had better be nerve gas or some of that James Bond knockout gas stuff. Wolves in Texas consider pepper spray a seasoning.
How a Pack Attacks.
I used to play a game called Fox and Hounds with my school children. One child was given a “tail” and a short head start. The rest of the children had to chase the child through a wooded park area until someone got his tail. The winner got to be the “fox”. It was surprising how quickly the kids learned to hunt like wolves. Inevitably the biggest fastest kids soon became the foxes. Despite being pursued by smaller, slower kids, the fox always got caught by the pack of hounds. They would chain run the fox back and forth till he got tired and then they cornered him and snagged his tail. You didn’t have to teach them how to do it. It’s an obvious technique.
Wolves can run as fast as 35 miles per hour. They will chase prey (that’s you) till the prey (again, that's you) gets tired. So you will not be able to outrun a wolf that really wants to catch you. You only have seconds to find the nearest high ground or a tree you can get up quickly. The pack will nip and bite at you weaving in and out trying to wound you. The pack doesn’t care about killing you. They only want to eat you. Their victims often die from being eaten rather than from any killer blow. Their goal is bring you down where they can get at your meaty bits.
Keep your eyes open when you are in or bordering wild country. If you catch a glimpse of a wolf or two at a distance, you may only have seconds. If they seem to be on either side of you, and moving to flank you, what you do in the next few minutes may mean the difference between life and a very nasty end. The first line of defense is good situational awareness and a cool head.
When, I’m walking in primitive areas, like Wal-Mart parking lots and national forests, I always look around me for quick escape routes. I plan “what if” scenarios so that if, God forbid, I’m attacked, I know at least the first couple of things I need to do automatically. Here are some defensive strategies that will help you plan your defense. It’s too late by the time you’re already surrounded by slavering wolves intent on eating out your soft parts.
- At the very least you need to find firm footing. Stay away from mud, snow or bogs.
- Find a defensible position on solid terrain. Look for a spot surrounded on two or three sides by some sort of barrier where they can’t get at you from above. If they have only one clear attack front available to them your defensive problem is less difficult.
- If you're in a bad spot, move slowly and steadily toward solid ground, water or toward a tree you can get up into quickly. Wolves don’t climb trees well, but they can jump, so get as high as you can. They don’t like to swim much either.
- Whatever you do, don’t run. It excites the wolf pack and they will instantly chase you. Wolves may attack a running person more quickly if they think he might get away. That could explain why joggers get attacked. Running for their lives is how deer do it. Don’t be a deer. You aren’t that fast.
- If you can swim and there is a body of water nearby, swim across it or out to an island you can get to. The wolves will be reluctant to follow you there. Even standing in waist deep water puts the advantage vastly in your favor, especially if you have a weapon. A water escape is NOT recommended in very cold weather since hypothermia, though a more peaceful death than death by wolf pack, it is till, after all, death!
- If you’re caught in the open and haven’t reached your preferred fighting ground, you’ll have to stand and fight. As you do so, look for pauses in the attack and move toward better ground so you will have the advantage. Don’t get rooted to a bad spot. Moving toward better ground is as important as pressing home the fight. Attack, then move. Attack and move.
Eventually, unless you can pepper the wolves with buckshot to drive them away, the wolf pack will make a move to attack you. You will want to run, but you must resist the flight response. Find your defensible position calmly but quickly. Walk. Don’t run. Wolves can attack from any position, but watch for these signs. If you see this, prepare to defend because he's coming.
1. Tails straight up in the air. Hair on the back standing up.
2. Ears pricked up (a dominance signal)
3. Bared fangs
4. A low growl
The animal activists are right about one thing. Sometimes you can shout or wave a stick around or charge one member of the pack, you may scare it and trigger a general retreat by the others. Note, however, the word “sometimes”. As ranchers have found out to their economic regret, scare tactics only keep off the wolves for so long as any rancher whose lost 20 or 30 head of sheep or cattle and several guard dogs in a single night can attest. Hungry, rabid or determined wolves lose their fear of loud people noises after a relatively short time. Here are some techniques that are a little more aggressive than making noise:
- Throw sticks and rocks at the nearer wolves as they approach you. Try to hit a couple hard and make them yelp. The others may back up and give you time to collect more rocks. The farther away you can keep them, the better.
- If you can get into the water and you’ve ever had lifeguard training, you should be able to drown any that come at you. It’s a simple matter to grab the first wolf who swims out to you behind the ears by the scruff and push his head under. Hold him down till he stops struggling. Stay behind him and away from fangs and claws. This is easier to do in deep water than it sounds thanks to our good old opposable thumbs and superior swimming ability (assuming you graduated beyond the “dog paddle”.) The wolves probably won’t follow you or attempt to attack you in the water. They aren’t that comfortable as swimmers and aren’t designed for it.
- Stand facing the direction of the general attack. Don’t let them get behind you. Strike at any wolf that tries to get to your legs. They want to get you down on the ground. Protect your ankles and knees and those fat femoral arteries. Aim for the nose and eyes when you strike a blow. It’s their most vulnerable spot.
- If you’re using a cane with a pointed end, thrust it down the throat of the first wolf to come at you. Hold on tight to the can and withdraw it quickly. His gag reflex will prevent him from clamping down. Use a sharp sword thrust. The pointed end of a stick, well placed can deliver a far more devastating blow than a sideswipe. Don’t sweep with the end of your stick unless you’ve weighted down the end of your cane with lead or something heavy that will break bones. Thrust and deflect. Shove the pointy end of a stick in the wolf’s eye or down his throat. Use the stick on leaping dogs to deflect them away from you. Keep moving. Fend them away from your legs.
- Don’t get fancy. Don't try the old rip the wolf’s jaws apart with your bare hands tactic like you're Tarzan or something. It won’t work. An adult wolf bites with 1500 pounds per square inch of pressure. A German shepherd’s bite only manages about 500 psi, so you see what you’re up against. If the wolf does grab your stick or weapon or worse, your arm in his teeth, you must react quickly and do the opposite of what is intuitive. Instinct tells you to pull away, but a wolf’s fang are curved backward, precisely in order to prevent you from pulling away. But, if you quickly shove your stick or arm forcefully backward, deeper into the bite, you may be able to take advantage of the wolf’s gag reflex and force a relaxing of the bite for a second. That’s the time to pull your arm or weapon free. It works when people are biting you too by the way. If you shove an arm down the animal’s throat you are moving with the curvature of the teeth so your arm doesn’t receive near the damage it would if you pulled against the curvature. Stick a cane or stick down the dog’s throat and you can put him out of action for the rest of the fight.
When you’re walking in wolf country and planning your escapes, don’t count on fighting your way out with your awesome fighting skills. Getting to a defensible place is the most important. Your attack plan will NOT work out like Bruce Lee fighting off 10 guys with his superior karate. Wolf packs average 10 or 12 members. Packs have been know to have up to 30 members and in today’s world they compete with man for food and territory and if you have 30 wolves in a group, you probably have a real shortage of rabbits and squirrels and some really hungry predators.
People are reluctant to shoot wolves that become intrusive or too comfortable around humans because they are perceived as endangered. There are some 7 to 11,000 wolves in Alaska alone and an estimated 5000 in the continental USA. They do not eat dog chow that they buy down at the Safeway. They kill things. It’s what they do. They kill if they are hungry. They kill if they are rabid. They kill if they’re too comfortable with humans and you look sufficiently helpless that the pack judges you a low-risk kill. Finally, if you walk up on a fresh kill, they just might kill you because they all feel in a “killin’ mood” at the time.
Wolves are not puppy dogs. They never safely domesticate and attacks by pet wolves on family members are well documented. They drag kids out of sleeping bags by their face. That’s documented. They jump trapper and campers stepping out of their RVs. They attack people worldwide. One pack attacked an Iranian cop on horseback, another a pair of farmers in China and another pack of only 3 wolves jumped a British-Canadian lumberjack with an axe. They do steal babies, kill livestock and get rabies a lot.
Look, I'm with the activists as far as it goes. Wolves are amazing creatures. They form family groups, care for their young and by all accounts are loyal to their packs. There’s a place for wolves in the eco-system. Without them we’d be overrun with deer and bunny rabbits. But the next time one of those “friends of the wolf” people try to tell you wolves aren’t dangerous and cite that “2 deaths in a century statistic”, just be aware of how deep the bovine excrement is being shoveled. . For more on the statistical problem check out “Lies, Danged Lies and Statistics: ‘The Grey’ Gets the PETA Treatment”.