Russian Hunting Traditions: Winter Wolf Hunt with Flags

Wolves stand among the most tough and strong animals inhabiting the territory of Russia and the neighboring countries. The populations of these beautiful predators are very large here, which sometimes causes great damage to local farms. That is why the wolf hunt is popular in Russia. In some regions, the hunters even get rewards from the state for each wolf skin they bring.

Wild wolf life span is estimated to be around 10-11 years. Hunger and diseases cause death in most cases. These animals are very strong both physically and mentally. Their body length may reach up to meter and a half, and weight can be up to 40-50 kilos. The largest species inhabit northern regions of Russia; southern wolves are generally smaller. The fur color varies greatly from snow white in the northern areas and to the red tints in the south. The coat is very thick, allowing the predator to sleep in the snow in severe Russian frost.

The wolf is very smart and sly animal with acute hearing, smell and sight. They can hear a quiet rustle from over a kilometer. Once escaped from the hunting drive, wolves become very wary and almost impossible to stalk. When hunting alone, a large wolf can harvest almost any of the local species. Only wild boar over 6 years old and moose are able to fight back. However even these animals can be weaponless when facing the wolf pack.

Groups of the wolves have their own large territories; and in winter they tend to move a lot following their prey. Food deficiency makes the wolves less cautious; they come out from the wildwood and stay near the farms and villages. Here they can always get some food: at least catch a dog or find a dead animal.

Winter is a perfect time for the traditional Russian wolf hunt with flags. The guides start preparing for the hunt with searching for the wolf tracks in the nearest forest, ravines, farm fields. At least several days are required to find the dwelling spot. The searchers need to be very careful in order not to scare away the pack before the hunt even starts. If started, the wolves can move away for a very long distance.

That is why it is very important to be technically prepared for the wolf hunt. The hunting team will need snowmobiles to cover great distances, skies to follow the tracks and walkie-talkies. The experienced guides can tell the number of wolves in the pack by their tracks. They also know whether the wolves stay in the day dwelling spot or are away hunting, though bad weather can sometimes confuse even the most experienced hunters. The wolves can move as far as 50 kilometers from their hiding place in search of food and can stay away for several days. To make the wolves stay close, the baits are used. If the wolves remain within the area, it is possible to start flagging.

The flags, which are used for hunting, are the pieces of colored fabric tied to a string or to the thin sticks. These flaps are tied at the height of around 30 centimeters from the ground to move freely in the wind. There need to be at least two guides to flag the territory around the wolf day rest area.

The flags work best in winter season, when there are no leaves and grass to cover the fabric and distract the animal’s attention. The impression is even deeper due to human tracks all around the flags and the silence, which is usual for winter forest. Usually the flags are 9-15 cm in width and around 25-35 cm in length. Red or orange colors are preferred as they are well seen against the tree trunks and snow. The wolves cannot distinguish the colors; however, it helps the hunters. The flags are tied to the line at the distance of about 35-50 cm one from another. It is recommended to keep the flags inside the house for several days before the hunt to let them soak up the human smells. Cotton will work better than synthetic fabric.

The flags being an alien item scare the wolves and prevent them from crossing the line. It is necessary to point out that only the wolves and fox can be stopped by the flag line. These smart animals live near the man, experience the chase and know the smell of human belongings. They will try to find a safe spot to escape from the flagged area, moving along the line.

While flagging, the guides keep very silent. It is not allowed to talk loud and smoke in order not to scare away the wolf pack. The flagged area needs to be rounded, without acute angles, as wolves tend to escape in such spots. Keep in mind that other animals, such as moose and wild boar possibly could be within the flagged area. They are not afraid of the flags and can easily tear up the line, allowing the wolves to escape, too. The diameter of the flagged area needs to be no less than one kilometer to allow the pack some moving around instead of escaping all-out in fear.

After the area is flagged, the hunt begins. The main guide will assign each hunter with his own shooting spot, downwind. Winter camouflage will be usefull, too. The hunters need to keep quiet during the hunt and be very attentive, as the wolves can appear suddenly and without any sound. If the wolf is the first one to see you, it will escape unnoticed. Get your triggers ready. The hunters have to be well equipped for this part of the hunt. Russian winters are rather harsh, and one can literary freeze while waiting for the predators to appear. You will need warm clothes and boots. Case shot works best for the wolf hunt preventing the animal from escaping. It is best to aim at the middle of the body. Even after the wolf is down, the hunter has to stay at the assigned spot, because other predators can appear soon. In addition, since there are many people involved in the hunt, it is safety motivated.

The beaters will drive the wolf pack towards the hunters. Actually, there is no need to make loud noises – wolves hearing is acute. It is enough to talk and maybe shout sometimes. The goal is to make the animals move toward the hunters. As a rule, the first wolves appear in pack guided by the old-timer, and it is necessary to get down as many as possible at that moment. The main guide will come to get you after the hunt is over. The trophies are counted and the guides consider whether it is necessary to continue hunting next day, in case several wolves still stay within the flagged area.

If the wolves escape from the flagged area, for example following the wild boars, it is possible to continue the hunt and try to flag the pack in the new spot. Traditional Russian wolf hunt is very exciting; however, it is not easy and demands the hunter to follow all the instructions strictly to ensure the successful hunt.

Image by Russian painter Vadim Gorbatov is used in the article, http://vgorbatov.ru/en/