Humans are actually the #1 predator of deer on the planet, but we’re just one of the many animals that prey on deer. Do wolves eat deer? Depending on the location, wolves often rank second, just behind people, as the deer’s next top predator.
So, yes, wolves eat deer. On average, a single wolf will kill 15-19 deer per year, but this number varies. Wolfs also hunt seasonally, meaning that they will hunt deer more during certain parts of the year.
To help you understand the role that a deer plays in a wolf’s diet, we’ve come up with an overview of a wolf’s hunting habits. We’ll also go over some of the other animals that wolves target.
How Wolves Hunt Deer
The idea of a lone wolf is a myth. There is no such thing as a wolf who hunts alone. All wolves live and hunt in packs.
Since wolves live in packs, hunting is a group effort that is organized by the alpha male. This is not a spontaneous, wild hunt.
Wolves plan their hunts meticulously and will often follow a group of deer for days before moving in for the kill.
Factors such as weather, herd size, and the location play into when and how wolves will strike. Deer are often aware of a pack’s presence and will react accordingly.
Large, open plains are not favored for attacks since the deer have a higher chance of outrunning the wolves.
Enclosed meadows or the forest are more ideal, and wolves will normally try and attack when deer are sleeping.
How Does a Wolf Kill a Deer?
When they are attacking a herd, wolves will usually target young deer, or fawns. Any deer that doesn’t have a high chance of survival can become a target.
If a larger deer is injured or doesn’t look like it has enough speed to run away, the wolves will target it instead.
Once they’ve waited for the perfect opportunity, the older wolves will take the lead and target their prey.
Deer catch on to the presence of wolves pretty quickly and will take off running as soon as they suspect that wolves are about to attack. A deer’s running speed is one of its greatest assets.
Though mothers will try and protect their young, the herd of deer will leave behind members that are likely to become prey.
Likely, younger wolves are less likely to join in on the action since they are less likely to succeed.
More experienced hunters will take control and perform the attack and gradually teach the pack’s younger members.
This also means that younger wolves get the last pickings at meat. The alpha wolf will always eat first, followed by the more prominent members of the pack.
Why Deer Are a Great Food Source for Wolves
Wolves hunt deer for some of the same reasons people do – their meat (venison), offers lots of protein and calories. Both are essential for a wolf’s diet.
Wolves are carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. If you put a salad in front of a wolf, it would probably just ignore it.
Deer are ideal because they are easy for the pack to share and because they are easy to target.
A single deer will feed the whole pack for several days, meaning they don’t have to waste energy on targeting other animals.
A wolf’s diet is fairly diverse, and deer are not the only animals that they will target. Let’s take a look at what else is on a wolf’s diet.
What Else Do Wolves Eat?
Wolves are known for being ferocious predators, but they won’t necessarily eat everything they set their eyes on. Wolves target prey that they will have a high success rate in killing.
Smaller animals like rabbits and are easy to overpower, but they can be more difficult to catch. Wolves don’t hunt alone and share food amongst their pack.
A rabbit is much harder to share than a deer or another larger animal.
Wolves will mostly go after other mammals, but they have been known to eat salmon and other species of fish. A wolf’s diet will vary on location.
If there aren’t that many big fish around, or if the rivers are too rough to cross, the wolf will be more likely to go after squirrels or deer.
Sheep are another favorite target, particularly because they are easy to kill. Sheep aren’t very smart and don’t have the strength to fight back and tend to gather in large groups. That makes them easy prey.
Wandering wolves are a shepherd’s worst nightmare, which is why shepherds have to guard their flock 24/7.
On rare occasions, wolves have been known to target cows and other farm animals, but they probably only target these animals when they don’t have other food sources.
How Many Deer Do Wolves Eat Per Year?
It is hard to measure exactly how many deer a single wolf will eat per year. Estimates suggest that in a given ecosystem, 15 to 19 deer will be killed per wolf annually.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that each wolf is eating that many deer.
Since wolves share their food with the pack, they don’t eat the whole deer on their own. Wolves are also more likely to hunt deer during the winter, when they require more food.
Deer tend to be heavier during the winter months, meaning they offer more meat.
During warmer months, a wolf requires 3-5 pounds of meat per day. This number jumps to 7-9 pounds in winter. Male wolves require more food than females, and adults need more than young wolves.
Wolves and Deer: In Summary
Wolves get a bad reputation when it comes to hunting. Given their ruthless methods and willingness to target just about anything, it isn’t surprising that wolves are often portrayed as the bad guys.
However, wolves have just as much of a right to eat as humans.
Deer are a natural part of the wolf’s diet, and wolves play an important role in the ecosystem. Without them, the environment would be thrown out of balance.
Still, that doesn’t make it any less annoying when they get to your deer first.