Wolf trapping is one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavors a trapper can endure.
It takes a special sense of adventure and extreme patience to be successful in coaxing North America's wariest canines to step on a two inch trap pan out of millions of acres of vast wilderness.
If you're thinking of picking it up for the first time or just want to brush up with some new tips, here are some of the things you'll want to consider.
Certification and the Law
To get started, you'll need to check out the most recent regulations for wolf trapping in each of the states that utilize the taking of wolves with traps. As of October 2014, those states offering wolf trapping season are Montana and Idaho. Both states require trappers to take a wolf specific trapper education class.
The classes in both states are similar, and interchangeable, meaning that if you take the wolf trapper class in Idaho, you are certified to trap wolves in Montana. Just know that while the classes are similar, the laws are different between states. Both states require a trapping license that allows for the taking of multiple wolves.
Idaho allows the use of snares for the taking of wolves. This is a real advantage to the trapper because snares suitable for wolves may be purchased for a fraction of the cost of foot hold traps. And Idaho has a less restrictive trap check requirement of 72 hours, whereas Montana only allows the use of foothold traps with a 48 hour trap check requirement.
Trapping wolves in mid-winter is a challenge because of access to remote trapping areas. Be prepared to push the limits of your vehicle as you make your way through deep snow. A snowmobile is ideal for many areas of eastern Idaho and western Montana where the mountains reign supreme.
Remember that with a 48-72 hour trap check requirement, you'll be burning a lot of gas and time. The check requirement is satisfied by a visual check and it is recommended to check from afar through quality optics to avoid bringing your scent near your set locations.
Trapping wolves requires tough equipment. The foot hold traps used to capture coyotes may hold young wolves, but make no mistake, an alpha male weighing in at well over 120 pounds will turn your toughest coyote trap into scrap metal in short order.
Because of the extreme size and power of these animals, traps made specifically for wolves are a must.
I have used two models in my pursuit of wolves including the MB-750 wolf trap and the Bridger Number 9. Each of these traps is powered by strong coil springs mounted to the base plate and make for suitable traps. There are many versions of good wolf traps on the market. I chose these traps because of the cost factor. The MBs are about $35 each brand new and the Bridgers are about $100.
Regardless of the trap you buy, you'll need to add big, crunch-proof swivels on your chain. I also set a 75 pound in-line spring on No. 5 chain about 12 inches below the trap frame and anchor the trap with a solid disposable stake at about 18 inches.
All crimp points are welded shut. Because wolves are so tough I add eight feet of chain and a big drag to the end. That way, if a wolf pulls the stake, I have a backup plan.
If I'm in rocky or frozen soil I am not forced to pound stakes or move my ideal set location. This is one area where you should never skimp. It is better to have fewer traps rigged appropriately than to try to use many poorly constructed traps.
Wolves are like many canines in that they are interested in the scent of other canines and they will investigate gland-based lures readily. They'll also work a set location baited with tainted meat or a quality food lure.
Anything that sparks the interest of coyotes will work to bring in wolves. In fact, a Montana wolf fell to my favorite fox lure in 2013 and after talking with other trappers they had similar experience with that same lure.
While there are many good lures on the market that I have personally observed wolves work, I do have a few favorites; Russ Carmen's, Hawbaker's and Weiser's lures. I have no real affiliation with any of these lure manufacturers other than being a customer. If you have a lure that works on your other canine traplines it will surely work for wolf trapping in the west.
The trap bed
When I first tried my hand at wolf trapping the only wolf trapping information came from trappers in Alaska and Canada. The trappers there enjoy below zero temperatures for weeks at a time, and advocate setting traps in the light fluffy snow.
If you try that in Montana or Idaho, your traps will be rendered useless within three days. The reason is that in the west temperatures fluctuate between sub-zero and 40 degrees throughout the winter. Warm snow packs around traps and freezing temperatures solidifies them. The best set in the world will do no good if the trap doesn't fire when the wolves show up.
To counter the freeze-thaw conditions, choose locations that naturally remain snow free in winter. Areas under large evergreen trees, windswept ridges and low-country locations are ideal.
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Dig a big trap bed in the ground, stake your trap and pour two inches of waxed dirt down and lay a trap sized piece of crinkled wax paper over the bed. Press your trap solidly on top of the waxed paper and lay another piece of waxed paper over the trap before sifting more waxed dirt over that. This keeps moisture away from your traps and with this bedding practice I have kept traps working all winter with very little maintenance.
Waxed dirt can be purchased or made at home. Simply find dry soil (I prefer sandy soil) and sift it over a tarp in the hot sun. Keep raking it until it is dry and spread to about one inch thick. Throw flake wax over the dirt until there is a light covering of the flakes over the entirety of the dirt.
With hot temperatures, the sun will melt the wax into the dirt. Keep raking the dirt until it looks wet and allow the dirt to cool naturally. I store my waxed dirt in 15 gallon Rubbermaid containers and keep them away from all human odors.
Using this simple trick will make the difference between a story about a pack of wolves that came through on day twenty and never fired a trap and a much better story.
Tough traps, good lure and waxed dirt are the basics for trapping wolves. Once you have those, boil your traps for an hour in water and log wood dye or sumac to remove scent, and color the traps in case the trap becomes exposed during heavy rain. That way, there won't be a shiny steel trap showing.
I also like to dip my traps in hot wax. I use wax made specifically for traps and put enough wax in a pot to cover my trap. When the wax is hot I place a boiled and dry trap in the wax and leave it there for two minutes. Then I remove the trap and hang it to dry.
I won't handle a trap with my bare hands again after this point. When done properly the trap will take on a dull sheen. There shouldn't be any clumps of wax on the trap anywhere.
A good basic wolf set is made by digging a hole about 12 inches deep and two inches wide at the base of a large rock, stump or tree and placing your favorite lure in the bottom. Bed a trap as described above about 16 inches back. If a location is good enough for one trap, it's probably good enough for two or three. Place multiple sets in the area and don't kneel, spit or smoke while setting traps.
Where to go
The last thing to check off your list is where to go. Fortunately, Idaho and Montana have plenty of public access for the out of state trapper to enjoy. Wolves are found everywhere in both states with concentrations found in the northeastern parts of Idaho and the western half of Montana.
Forest service roads make getting into remote areas possible in winter and wolf tracks are easy to spot; with pads up to seven inches across, you won't confuse them with coyotes. Wolves travel in groups (often but not always) and run in huge circles.
A wolf pack can and will cover 20 or 30 miles in a single day and may not return to an area for over 30 days. But when they do return, they'll take an almost identical route as they did before. Finding a good location with lots of tracks and setting up a trap line is a sure fire way to trap a wolf when the pack returns.
When all your traps are set it's just a matter of waiting and checking. If it snows a lot you'll need to uncover the traps and may need to remake the sets occasionally.
It's hard work and there are no guarantees, but trapping a wolf may be your best chance at getting a wolf this season.