Wolves were once plentiful across North America, but a combination of aggressive hunting and a shrinking habitat pushed them to the verge of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern Rocky Mountain wolf as an endangered species in 1973, designating Yellowstone as one of the areas of the country to be used to help the population recover.
In the mid-1990s wildlife officials released more than three-dozen wolves into the park. Since then the population has grown to more than 100, and wolf watching has become a popular activity for tourists.
Spotting a wolf in Yellowstone takes a bit of effort, however. Here are a few tips to help increase your chances of success:
COME AT THE RIGHT TIME
Wolves can be elusive creatures. Winter is the best time to spot a wolf, simply because they can be easier to see against a snow-covered backdrop. Wolves can be seen throughout Yellowstone, from Old Faithful to Lamar Valley.
Wolves can generally be seen in Yellowstone from mid-September to mid-June. The summer months are typically hot and the wolves will travel to higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler.
HAVE GOOD OPTICS
Watching and photographing wolves can be much more enjoyable when done with a little help from binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses. Don’t skimp on a good set of binoculars or quality spotting scope. Even though you may not return to Yellowstone for years they can serve as the basis for a wildlife-watching hobby at home.
Remember that getting closer than 100 yards to wolves and other predatory animals in the park is prohibited, so take that into consideration when deciding what type of optics to bring. A camera shop or sporting goods store in your area should be able to help you make the right decision.
SCAN FOR RECENT WOLF ACTIVITY
Some of the signs of wolves in the area include fresh tracks, a recent animal kill or circling birds of prey. Elk or bison bunched together or all facing the same direction can also be a sign that wolves are nearby.
In addition, listen for the yip of coyote. Wolves occasionally start howling when coyotes yip, making them easier to find. A wolf’s howl is longer and lower-pitched than a coyote’s.
SHARING INFORMATION WITH THE YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK WOLF RESEARCH PROJECT
If you do spot wolves in Yellowstone, consider making a difference in their lives by sharing your experience with the Yellowstone National Park Wolf Research Project. Not only does the YNP Wolf Research Project offer valuable information on recent spottings in the park, sharing information and photographs benefits the project and allows researchers to share your experience with the next visitor.
For more information visit www.yellowstonewolf.org
WORK WITH A WOLF WATCHING GUIDE
If you’re unfamiliar with Yellowstone, your chances of seeing wolves will be much greater if you work with an experienced guide. BrushBuck Wildlife Tours offers a number of small-group wolf observation tours.
BrushBuck’s guides have years of experience and knowledge of Yellowstone wildlife and can offer the best chances of spotting a wolf during your visit.