Wolverine: The Real Superhero

The real wolverine is no less amazing than the superhero named after it

To be honest, most of us at BookYourHunt.com are not too keen on that superhero stuff and comic books. We’re much more fascinated with the reality of the universe we feel blessed to inhabit. The world of wildlife is full of creatures who are more amazing than any fruit of popular culture’s imagination – and have powers that may appear supernatural to humans. One such creature is wolverine. It would be interesting to follow how the few scattered bits of data and myth in the general public’s consciousness transformed into an image of a guy with bad temper, built-in blades, and whiskers. But let’s focus on the real thing.

Wolverine, in public perception, is as full of myth as a comic book. If you believe all the stories, a wolverine is the scariest creature in the taiga. It will run down a moose, kill it, wait over the kill for a grizzly bear, cut it to ribbons with its terrible claws, gorge on it, then find a wolf pack and have them flying in all directions just for laughs. It has supernatural cunningness and second sight that will make futile all your attempts to kill it; be thankful if it doesn’t climb a tree, wait until you come under, and slice you up like it did that grizz. It will run your trapline clear of all bait and prey.

The last one is kinda true. The wolverine owes much of its reputation to frustrated trappers whose trap lines wolverines love to raid, stealing the bait and the trapped animals. Honestly, if you were a scavenger in the frozen taiga, you’d love traplines, too. And wolverines are primarily scavengers, although they might hunt and kill animals up to caribou in size. Ernest Thompson Seton once called a wolverine a hyena of the North, but in appearance and reputation for badassness, wolverine rather resembles the honey badger.

An angry wolverineLike honey badger, wolverine is a member of a weasel family.  It is common in boreal forests around the Northern Hemisphere, but most wolverine hunting opportunities are to be found in Alaska and Russia. Boreal forests are emphatically no African savannah, the so-called initial biological production capacity is much lower, which is another way of saying there are few things to scavenge. This is the reason that wolverine seldom forms very dense populations. They are highly individualistic creatures, and their individual territories stretch for many miles.

This gives the wolverine its perhaps most amazing superpower: ability to cover large territories. A wolverine is a living equivalent of a dune buggy: low weight, high power, and lots of traction surface on its huge paws. Researchers who GPS-collared wolverines in Alaska were struck not just by how much distance these critters covered, but with apparent disregard to obstacles. From the GPS track it looks like a wolverine can run up a nearly vertical canyon wall and maintain the same speed as if it was going over smooth level ground.


This high off-road performance is what brings the wolverine its highest success as a predator, too. The biggest quarry they can manage is a caribou/reindeer, and that when the snow is deep, and the ungulate’s movements are impeded, while the wolverine glides over as if on snowshoes. When hunting, wolverines almost invariably use teeth, not claws, to kill their prey. But the claws are useful in breaking into beaver huts. Studies show that wolverines enjoy hunting the giant rodents, and if they don’t find beavers at home, they may try to ambush them on their return to the hut. Like all weasels, wolverines practice surplus killing, which gives trappers another reason to hate them.

The claws, along with an impressive snarl and apparent fight-to-death attitude come in handy wherever there’s a dispute over some dead animal with wolves or bears. Here, however, the wolverine’s legendary fighting abilities don’t always live up to the legend. A wolverine may successfully defend its food source against bigger predators, but it’s mostly due to the fact that the bigger predators are good at risk estimation. In most cases a couple of reindeer bones won’t pay for bites and gashes they’ll receive in the fight. But a wolverine that meets a pack of really hungry wolves and can’t escape to a tree is a dead wolverine.

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If wolverines are scarce, it doesn’t mean they’re endangered. In many areas is can be hunted under a common furbearer hunting/trapping permit, during the regular furbearer season, which typically starts in October, and may last until January or February. The best time for hunting is usually when the stable snow cover has settled, but the snow is not yet deep enough to impede with the hunter’s movements. In Alaska, non-resident wolverine tags are available over the counter, and non-residents are not required to be accompanied by a licensed guide or a close relative who is Alaska resident.

Wolverine in the summerHowever, you will seldom see a wolverine hunt advertised by an outfitter. Few outfitters can guarantee a decent success chance for a wolverine hunt, because of the critter’s scarcity, shyness and intelligence. Just to show how intelligent they are, here’s a story from researchers who trapped wolverines to put GPS collars on them. Typically, a predator once caught in a trap will evade it ever after. But collared wolverines walk right into traps, enjoy the free meal, and then nap nonchalantly, waiting to be released.

Perhaps the most reliable way to harvest a wolverine is by means of a snowmobile, which is legal in some areas. Other methods include hunting over bait, and hunting with dogs. Many pack owners, however, are reluctant to set their dogs on wolverine, because of its fighting abilities.  In addition, wolverine hunting requires travel into remote wilderness areas, which is typically not cost-efficient if you do it only for a wolverine. Therefore, a wolverine hunt is typically sold as part of a package for hunting of other species, and a wolverine is taken if an opportunity presents itself. A dedicated wolverine hunt in the United States or Canada might start at the $3,000-$5,000 range; check out Russia for more affordable opportunities.

Wolverine is a worthy opponent to any hunter, human or non-human. Its main strength is intelligence, that allows wolverine to both scavenge for food and escape bigger predators such as wolves. Numerous myths and legends fuel up the interest in these species, but a hunter who would want to add a wolverine skin and claws to their trophy room will find that a wolverine may be every bit as difficult to bag as the superhero it shares the name with.


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