Michigan Hunter Mistakes 84-Pound Gray Wolf for Coyote, Kills It

by Vern Evans

A case of false identification is under investigation in Michigan after a hunter shot, killed, and reported what he thought was a large Eastern coyote but turned out to be an 84-pound gray wolf, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced on Wednesday. The DNR is not indicating whether the man is under investigation or if he will be charged for the incident, which occurred in January.

This situation is especially unique since the man, whose identity is not available to the public, was on a guided coyote hunt in Calhoun County in the southern Lower Peninsula. All of Michigan’s resident wolves live in the Upper Peninsula, which is home to between 600 and 700 individuals across 120 to 130 packs, DNR wolf biologist Brian Roell tells Outdoor Life.

Eastern coyotes tend to weigh between 25 and 40 pounds, according to DNR. This animal was more than twice that size, which begs the question of how the hunter and his guide got the identification so wrong — especially after approaching it and seeing the carcass up close. When trying to determine if an animal is a wolf versus a coyote, aside from the size difference, wolves have shorter, blunter noses and rounder faces, while coyotes have much more angular features and longer, sharper snouts. 

The DNR conducted genetic tests to determine the animal in question was a gray wolf. The average weight of Michigan’s adult male gray wolves is 87 pounds (adult females average 76 pounds), so this particular wolf was of average size, Roell says — although how it got to Calhoun County remains a mystery.

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“This is a one-off event. This is not a normal thing,” Roell says. “Pre-settlement times, the whole state of Michigan was wolf range. But even the southern Lower Peninsula, in the oak savannahs, those areas probably aren’t that suitable for a wolf. This is just way out of its normal range.” 

But, as Roell points out, wolves are known to disperse from their packs and these travels can take them thousands of miles from their home range.

“We’ve had wolves collared in Michigan show up in Missouri years ago, and more recently one traveled over 4,000 miles through Wisconsin, Minnesota, even a little bit into North Dakota, Ontario, and west into Manitoba,” Roell says. “We’ve had wolves show up in the Lower Peninsula before, but the five-mile Straits of Mackinaw are a pretty good barrier. We don’t get a lot of ice bridges anymore. So how it got there is a curiosity, and we may never be able to say.”

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The DNR’s investigation is ongoing. Gray wolves in Michigan are classified as a federally endangered species and any take of them is a crime. (They are not on the Michigan threatened and endangered species list.) But, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, someone must knowingly kill a wolf to be punished to the fullest extent. If this hunter was truly mistaken, he might avoid the combined criminal and civil penalties of $75,000 in fines and 18 months in prison that can accompany a conviction for killing a wolf. 

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