by Daniel E. Schmidt, D&DH editor
Perhaps you’ve seen this photo in your email inbox this week. It has circulated the
rounds many times here at our office. The text that goes with it says, “joe got his
first buck with the bow on opening weekend, a spiker. he shot it saturday @ 6:30pm
but we lost the trail at 9 so we didn’t find it until 8 am the next morning. but don’t
worry, the dnr says there isn’t a wolf problem in northern wisconsin!”
Nice that they found his first buck; too bad that it was found by scavengers before
the hunters did. Unfortunately, this is part of hunting in the big woods. What should
be noted, however, is the assumption about wolves is incorrect. This is the classic
trademark work of coyotes.
Unlike wolves, which rip apart deer, crushing bones with their large, heavy teeth,
coyotes work in a precision-like manner when they come across a fresh kill. I’ve been
on the receiving end (either myself or deer camp friends) of four such bloodtrails
in my life, and all of them looked like the above photograph.
Coyotes typically start by disemboweling the deer, eating the hind quarters and then
working they way through the rest of the carcass. If undisturbed, a few coyotes can
pick a deer carcass clean in just a few hours.
The coyotes will urinate on the carcass if they feel threatened or are forced to leave
it for a period of time. This happened to me in Illinois in 2005 when I shot a large
doe and had to leave it in the woods while summoning tracking help. We returned four
hours later to find coyotes had soaked the carcass with urine and had eaten part of
the upper hams.
All of the deer that I’ve seen lost to coyotes were shot just before dusk and left
overnight. The carcasses were found shortly after first light the next morning. Every
scrap of meat was removed from the carcasses, the hides were nearly “fleshed” out
all the way to the base of the skulls. If time allows, ravens and crows will pluck
out a deer’s eyeballs, and they will remove scraps and tallow from the ribs and backbone.
This is not to say that wolves won’t consume a hunter-shot deer. They most certainly
will, but the odds of you finding it intact are extremely rare. Wolves not only tear
into a carcass, they often drag bones and even the head away for further scavenging.
On a final note, wolves certainly can consume much more meat than a coyote. Unlike
coyotes, which eat small mammals and vegetation, wolves require at least 3.7 pounds
of meat per day for minimum maintenance. Young wolves may need three times this much.
Furthermore, a wolf may go several days without a meal and then gorge on as much as
20 pounds of meat when a kill is made or found.
It is estimated that one gray wolf will eat, on average 15 to 20 deer per year. That
equates to about 40,000 to 60,000 deer annually in Minnesota and 20,000 to 30,000
Learn more about whitetail biology with the Whitetail