Like many of the posts I write, this one also stems from my own curiosity and desire to get educated. Last spring I was trying to get in shape, running almost daily on our surrounding trails, down 2 tracks and dirt roads. Then about mid-June I had a conversation. One that completely changed my perspective, which lead me to determine if this new found fear of wolves should be considered realistic or am I simply making a big deal out of a non-issue. Alas, I’ve gathered some wolf facts that might get me out running again or looking into a treadmill purchase.
Should we be afraid of the big bad wolf when we’re out on the trails in Michigan’s U.P.?
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First let me give you the gist of the conversation: “That’s great you’ve been getting more exercise and experiencing the great outdoors…I recently saw a wolf…gee you really shouldn’t be in the woods alone…maybe you should carry a gun…a wolf wouldn’t hesitate to get you…” HAVEN’T. BEEN. RUNNING. SINCE. Could one say it was merely an excuse to be lazy? Perhaps but hearing these words from a true yooper and local native makes me a bit nervous, thus the desire to gather some wolf facts.
Wolf Facts you should know while on the Trails
- Population – According to the Michigan DNR there are approximately 600-700 wolves in the Upper Peninsula.
- Coming off the endangered list? – Not at the time of this post but there is a push to make that happen.
- Documented wolf attacks – While I’m not a huge fan of Wikipedia for its wholehearted accuracy, this submission is very informative regarding wolf attacks on humans in North America. The most recent case nearest Michigan was documented in 1989 in Minnesota by a captive wolf and history shows the last case in Northern Michigan in 1893.
- Wolf size perspective – The drawing above (not done by me because you wouldn’t want to see that, believe me) illustrates the size difference nicely if you’re familiar with a Siberian husky. Look below for front and hind track comparisons. If you come across what looks like a wolf track but are unsure, keep in mind that they will never be accompanied by human tracks.
- Deterrents – In all the research I came across it was the same theme…”wolves are intelligent, wary and have a substantial fear of people. They can often hear or smell us coming from miles away, making close encounters on the trail extremely rare.” (conservationnw.org) The biggest concern at this point would be for a pet that’s hiking or running with you. Keep them on a leash and it’s possible that a bear bell could help.
- The best weapon if you must – Here’s where some controversy comes in so stick with me. Guns are a normal thing in the back-country and while I’m not a carrier I know plenty of people who are, especially while trekking through the woods. So for a hiker that’s taking their time, carrying a weapon might be an option but jogging or running with a gun seems a bit cumbersome. Another option that may be effective is pepper spray that can be worn in a hip holster or fanny pack…yes I said fanny pack, they’re coming back in style, ya know?!
- What to do if you don’t have a weapon – If you encounter a wolf “begin to slowly back away — but do not turn your back — and don’t run…Throwing rocks or other nearby objects might demonstrate that you’re not easy prey, and the wolves will most likely move on. Ultimately, should the wolves attack, fight back aggressively, protecting your neck and face at all costs until the wolves give up.” (scoutingmagazine.org)
- My best advise – Pay attention and take the earbuds out. Listen to nature instead.
Hiking or running on back-country trails has other dangers that you should keep in mind. Be aware of tree roots, rocks and slippery leaves. Take smaller strides and wear proper shoes.
Other sound advise if on your own
- Tell someone where you’re going.
- Set a time you’ll be back and stick to it!
- Take your phone. There’s great running and hiking apps that use GPS.
- Wear bright clothing. This is especially important during hunting season.
- Keep your earbuds out or only use one.
The takeaway on this hot topic
Bob had mentioned that a post on wolf facts in the U.P. could be quite controversial. I was actually perplexed by this and questioned, why on earth would anyone care that I’m writing about trail safety when it comes to dangerous animals? I found it absurd that he’d even have the audacity to query my desire to learn more so I could pass it on to you.
In researching this topic I’ve learned that, just like other recent political views (because believe it or not it is very much political), this too is a very polarizing issue. Whatever your stance is we can clearly see that while wolves may not be a direct threat to humans, there is evidence of dangers to our domestic animals and farm livestock. Please also understand that this post’s intent is only to educate on safety while in the middle of nowhere and not to take a position one way or the other. It is imperative that people make educated decisions based on facts and their own research.
If you’d like to add to our wolf facts conversation I’ll invite you to use the share buttons below and comment if you’d like.