Tracking the Pack: You might never actually see a gray wolf, but the sign they leave behind makes up for it!

Gray wolves are shy and elusive creatures living in Wisconsin’s northern & central forests. Today there are around 978 gray wolves in Wisconsin according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources 2018-2019 wolf count. I’ve been a part of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) winter wolf tracking program for 20 years now. One thing I’ve learned is that you may never actually catch sight of a gray wolf while conducting a tracking survey, but signs they leave behind will definitely make up for it. The following is one such story of the life of a gray wolf pack I observed while conducting a winter wolf tracking survey in northern Wisconsin.

In 2006 in late January while conducting a winter wolf track survey I ran across sign that indicated the alpha female was in estrus. On a snow covered road I found sign of the alpha pair’s scent marking every 10th of a mile down the road. I observed that whole wolf pack were leaving sign, from subordinate individuals, to the alpha pair. Subordinate individuals leave squat urination signs, and the alpha pair leave raised leg urination. Typically only the alpha male and female make the raised led urination signs. The alpha male also leaves raised leg urination sign along with scat markings indicating this is his territory and he intends to guard it! These markings were made at the edge of their range, and wolves are very territorial at this time of the year.

I continued tracking, observing and documenting all the sign along the snow covered road full of wolf tracks. A mile or so down the road I found the evidence I was hoping to find; a snow covered pine tree sapling with rusty-red colored urine on top of it. The rusty-red colored urine was the tell tale sign that the alpha female was in estrus.

You might never actually see a gray wolf, but the signs they leave behind makes up for it! And this was a winter wolf tracker’s dream come true.

Photograph credit John E Marriott