These two dogs – OK, canines – are so similar that quite a few people will confuse them if they see them in the wild. There are many guides to telling a wolf from a coyote in nature. But from a hunter’s perspective the difference between the species is not just biological, but, we dare say, philosophical.
Wolves are bigger, and more predator like – that is, they rely on killing animals as big as elk, moose and bison. Coyotes can kill a deer, too (especially fawns), but their staple food are smaller creatures. For people, bigger is better except when it comes to predators – size isn’t always an evolutionary advantage. In wolves, we see a greater threat to our livestock and ourselves, so as civilization spread, wolves were among the first predators to be actively hunted. In North America in particular, coyotes benefited as wolves were being exterminated, and penetrated their ecological niche.
Wolves are more cosmopolitan – they occupy most of the Northern Hemisphere – or once did. They thrive in Russia and most eastern Europe, and can be freely hunted in some European countries, including Spain, Bulgaria, Macedonia, the Baltic states, and Belarus, as well as Kazakhstan. Coyotes are as all-American as the turkey, and are widespread all over the mainland USA, Mexico and Canada. Wolves were exterminated or came close to it in most of the “civilized” parts of Western Europe and mainland USA by the mid-XX century, and are now protected. Coyotes are the exact opposite.
Coyotes belong to the species that can use to their advantage the opportunities provided by us humans in food and shelter – e.g. food from garbage bins and roadkill, shelter in ditches and fences. So they multiply at a higher rate than less adaptable species. So coyotes are considered “vermin” all over their habitat. Many options, such as night hunting, hunting with night vision equipment, electronic calls, that are illegal for other species are legal for coyote hunting.
The status of the wolf as a hunting species is ambiguous. In many parts of Europe and Asia they are treated like the coyotes in America. Even some Canadian provinces still pay bounty for wolf harvest. In such places “anything goes” approach more or less prevails: in Russia, for instance, it’s legal to hunt them from motorized vehicles and even aircraft. And yet for most Western hunters a wolf hunt is a trophy hunt, driven not by the need to control populations, but by the drive to outsmart an intelligent and competent predator.
This is reflected in the price structure. Dedicated coyote hunts start at about $300-350 per hunter per day. Coyote hunting is often combined with other predator hunts, such as fox and bobtail, or with hog hunting. The most affordable wolf hunting opportunities are to be found in Canada and Belarus, where they start an about $1,000. Some outfitters add wolf hunting to a combination hunt offer for the price of a tag, but if you insist on having a dedicated wolf hunt with a high probability of success, you will have to be ready to pay $3,000-$5,000 to an outfitter who has sufficient ability and experience.
The main trophy of wolf hunting being the skin, hunts are usually scheduled to periods when the wolf fur is in prime condition, which would naturally be in winter. In the late winter months wolves may be especially vulnerable to hunters due to lack of food, but high snow in typical wolf habitat limits the hunters’ mobility. November and December typically offer the best compromise.
Coyotes, by contrast, can be hunted year round across most of their habitat, making them a sort of “off-season” species, a quarry to pursue when you can’t hunt deer, birds and such. By far the most popular method of coyote hunting is calling, imitating the voices of typical prey or the predators themselves. Most hunters use electronic calls. When the canines answer the call, and come to investigate the source of the sound, regardless of whether they perceive it as a potential food source or a trespasser, they are alert, so good concealment is necessary. Many hunt coyotes at night, using night vision or thermal sights. An AR-type semiautomatic rifle for a smaller caliber seems to be a coyote hunter’s top choice.
Wolf hunting methods are usually more varied. A dream for many hunters would be to take part in the traditional hunt with the nomads of Kazakhstan and Mongolia that take wolves with eagles and sighthounds. Calling, both by imitating prey animals and doing the wolf howl to make the resident pack think someone intruded into their territory, also works, and might make your hair stand on the back of your neck both times – when the caller starts howling, and when the pack answers.
Eurasian outfitters usually arrange wolf hunts by baiting, or driving. Often a combination of methods is employed. Wolves may be attracted to an area with the help of bait, then their location is verified by calling, and the hunter is put on a high seat over bait, or a drive is arranged. The pack may be surrounded by fandry, a line of flags on a rope, a classic Russian way of wolf hunting.
American guides are often opportunistic, and hunt wolves in the course of hunting for other species – just keep their eyes open and if they see a wolf, try and get it. Unsurprisingly, in Montana and Idaho, where wolf hunting opportunities still exist, Wolf tags are usually available over the counter, and in the Lower 48 are limited only by quota, with hunters obliged to report their wolf kill immediately. The quota is seldom met.
Similar in size and behavior (being social creatures), humans and wolves have always competed for food and territory. The conflict led to wolves’ extermination in most of the so-called civilized countries, but it wasn’t easy. Harvesting this intelligent predator taxes the hunter’s ability to the maximum, and deeply embedded memories of the age-long conflict make wolf hunting a highly emotional pursuit. This makes a wolf skin – provided you were the person who harvested the animal – much more than just a rug.
But coyote – how does a predator hunt, a cull in other words, which some people do for a living, become something other people would like to pay for? Easy – if we’re dealing with such a cunning, wary and intelligent creature as the coyote. Coyote hunters do it to help other species, including deer, to protect pets and livestock, and for furs – while not precisely sable or beaver, a coyote skin has its value, too. But perhaps the thing that drives people to coyote hunting is the contest with a worthy opponent.