Wolverine, © Ken Curtis

Wolverine Sightings

Kylie Paul, Rockies & Plains Representative
Russell Talmo, Wolverine Project Assistant

WolverineIt’s not every day that you get to see a wolverine. In fact, wolverine sightings are extremely rare, even if you live in wolverine habitat. That’s why Defenders and other organizations are enlisting the help of outdoor enthusiasts, backcountry users and wolverine fans across the West to report any wolverine sightings or observations of wolverine tracks. If you are traveling in the backcountry in the western United States (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Utah) and see a wolverine or wolverine track, we want to hear about it. And the Backcountry Wolverine Watchers project makes it pretty simple.

Several research institutes have reporting pages on their websites that gather observational data on wolverines. These observations provide helpful baseline information for biologists in the U.S. and Canada about one of North America’s least-known carnivores. Defenders is working to help these organizations collect more observations, as we’re always working to raise awareness about the magnificent wolverine and its proposed Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection.

These elusive creatures spend most of their time in remote and rugged high alpine terrain in the West – some of the same places that backcountry skiers, hikers, horsemen and others visit year-round.  As a result, those backcountry users have the highest likelihood of spotting a wolverine or wolverine sign.  So, Defenders is spreading the word to local outdoor organizations and retailers and at outdoor-focused events, handing out wolverine identification cards [PDF] and an informational poster that explains how to identify and report wolverine sign to the websites that pool the information.  By reaching out to these recreation-loving folks that share an intrinsic appreciation for wild country and wildlife, we are raising awareness and gaining invaluable information. Plus, when a hiker or skier knows that they live and play in valuable wolverine habitat, they are more likely to ‘tread softly’ while they are out there.

Wolverine posterMost of us have never seen a wolverine, so it can be pretty exciting if you do see one – or if you see something that you think is a wolverine. There are plenty of mistaken identifications out there – people commonly confuse badgers, marmots, small bears, and domestic dogs for wolverines. Even if you live in a western state where wolverines occur, it is darn unlikely that the creature you’re staring at is a wolverine. The best bet? Take a photo! Without one, it is really tough to verify what you saw. With that photo, record as much information as possible: color and markings, size, location (get GPS point or find it on a map), terrain, speed of travel, time and date.

One handy thing about the elusive wolverine — just like anything else walking in the snow — they leave tracks behind! So again, if you’re way up high in snowy, mountainous terrain and come across a five-toed track (canines and cats have 4 toes), look more closely. Characteristics of a wolverine track include: 4-inch wide print; five toes, chevron-shaped interdigital pad, and oval-shaped heel pad; and prints are close together compared to those of a wolf, lynx, or mountain lion since wolverines have shorter legs.

Again, most importantly, photograph the track so others can verify it. Make sure you include something in it for size scale (like keys, cell phone, pen or coins). Measure or estimate the size of individual prints and distance between tracks (length and width between tracks). Describe the track, the snow conditions and time since last snow, note time and date, and locate the area on a map – ideally, take a GPS point.

If you’re lucky enough to see a wolverine track or a wolverine itself, please then report it to the relevant site:
If you’re in the western U.S., go to The Wolverine Foundation.
If you’re in Canada, go to Wolverine Watch.
If you’re in Wyoming, go to Nature Mapping: Wolverine Project.

For more information about Wolverines and Defenders work to help protect them, or if you wish to comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed ESA protection, Click Here.

12 Responses to “Wolverine Sightings”

  1. Stele Ely

    Wolverine Dreams is a love song about 2 wolverines. It is at http://voxerth.net/wolverine-dreams/
    one wolverine dreams
    of slow voles, and dead things
    to savor tummy yummies
    drink waters so pristine
    with no lead or mercury
    that dirty coal is history

    my wild self is howling
    to help her dreams come true
    gonna conserve electricity at home and work too
    (optional: her wild love is howling
    cuz her dream is coming true [howl]

    one wolverine dreams
    to play on cornice lips
    and dance on glacier prisms
    to ponder on icy mountains
    saved from CO2 regimes
    by climate protests, laws and screams

    my wild heart is howling
    to help his dreams come true
    travel green, rideshare and carbon offset too [howl]
    (optional: his wild love is howling
    cuz his dream is coming true [howl]

    two wolverines dream
    for home under aurora trees
    to romp and roll, whisker kiss
    curl fur to fur in (sacred) bliss
    free from chainsaw schemes
    and the paper companies

    my wild love is howling
    to help their dreams come true
    gonna use less paper, recycle, reuse and donate too …

  2. Ryan McHenry

    Saw a wolverine running along the road running between Shaver Lake, CA and Hunnington Lake last year. It totally shocked me to see it. Was very cool experience.

  3. Marilyn Snyder

    To Ryan McHenry – WOW, you are truly blessed to see such a rare sight!!!

  4. Shanna Swanson

    I found a dead wolverine in the Madison Range of Montana up Mill Creek near Cameron. I do have photos of it.

  5. Paul Myers

    I believe I saw a wolverine about 5 weeks ago in northwest Missouri

    About 3 1/2 years ago, I walked over to the local cemetery to visit my brother’s grave. I was in sneakers and moving quietly. When I got a view over the hill, I saw an animal running along the fence row at the back of the cemetery. It was dark brown and at first its gait reminded me of a bear, but it was definitely too small to be a bear unless it was a cub. Its tail appeared to be longer than a bear tail–maybe 8 inches or so. The animal was moving pretty quickly, and was only in my view for 20 or 25 seconds. When I saw it, I dismissed bear and my mind came up with wolverine.

    This winter, in late January/early February, there was snow cover on–maybe 3 inches. The snow was originally 7 or 8 inches, but it had been melting. One night about 10:00 PM, I went outside and stepped around the north corner of my house and looked toward the back yard where I have some bird feeders (misc. seeds, sunflower, raisins, corn, and a suet block). I observed a fairly large animal in the back yard by the base of the tree where the feeders hang. As I watched the animal, he moved away from me, toward the north side of a large shed. Just as he reached the corner of the shed, he stopped and turned his head and looked at me. At this point, our security light was shining directly on his face, and he was beside the shed which has 4″ vinyl lap siding on it. I attempted to estimate the height of the animal, based upon how many siding runs were below the top of his back, remembering that he was standing in snow. My thought was that he was somewhere between 16 and 20 inches to the top of his back. One thing that struck me was that the animal didn’t seem to be afraid of me. When he stopped and looked back at me, I was considering whether I could get back in the front door before he could make it up from the back yard…

    It was definitely not a raccoon. It wasn’t an opossum. It wasn’t a skunk. It wasn’t a muskrat. It wasn’t a beaver. It wasn’t a groundhog. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a badger. It wasn’t an otter. It was larger than all of those, and didn’t have facial markings like a raccoon or a badger. It didn’t move like a big cat. It was certainly not a canine (dog/wolf/coyote/fox). I suppose it could have been a small bear, but the tracks don’t look right.

    So anyway, after a lot of consideration, and having watched hours and hours of videos of wolverines, as unlikely as it seems, I am fairly certain that that is what I observed. I was out of town the next day, so I didn’t get back there to photograph the tracks until the second day, and some melting had happened by then, but you could still clearly see the five large claw marks, and the overall shape of the prints. I put a ruler down by the tracks to illustrate the size–some were about 3 inches across, and some about 3.5 inches–far too large for most of the animals I mentioned above.

    I have photos of the tracks (1024 x 768 hi-def) if anyone is interested in seeing them.

    • Michael Watson

      I live in Southwest Missouri. Last night I was in my garage and heard something hit the side of the house. Grabbed Q Beam and started walking out to side of the house. As I shined a light he jumped out of the ivy. Was maybe 20-25lbs 20″ in length and brown/black white towards back.Legs were all black.Face was all black. My first thought was a black bear cub. But it was to short. I kept the QBeam on him keeping a distance from him. He ran across my entire back yard. Covered 80 feet in about 5 seconds. When he ran it was like a bear running.That was the distance he was when he looked at me one last time before heading into the woods.

  6. Brett

    On July 18th while hiking near the trailhead of the Lost Lake Trail off of Grand County Rd 4 (Stillwater Pass Rd. I spooked an animal approximately the siz of a 45# dog. I caught only a fleeting glance of the animal as it ran away from my position. It was dark golden brown with lighter, nearly white stripes along its flank. It had a long shaggy haired tail flailing along behind it also with a stripe. Its fur was similar to the texture of a skunk and undulated at the sides as the animal ran. Its speed was quite surprising appearing to be traveling faster than a frightened house cat. It appeared to run in a straight line regardless of objects in its path varying only slightly to leap over or under fallen logs. I observed its flight for a period of 2 to 3 seconds and estimated it covered about 125 feet while in sight. The sound of its travel continued for another 4 to 5 seconds falling off with the distance. The animal did not have the color or markings of a fox or coyote. It was very close in color to a black bear juvenile but was moving faster and differently than a bear. The GPS coordinates for this location are: 40.301312, -105.965831.

  7. tonya

    we saw a wolverine run around a field road then under a house. Game warden didn’t believe us so we put out trap cameras hoping to catch it again not sure if it was just passing through. Can’t miss something like that it runs like a skunk and is brown and black and about size of a medium dog.
    Guess will have to see if we get it on trap camera.

  8. Joseph Johnson

    My two cousins and I saw one crossing a highway Just north northwest of Jefferson Missouri.

    The area was a heavily wooded ridge near a river. Several hundred feet from the river.

    It was not a… raccoon(commonly seen), opossum(commonly seen), badger( Never seen but they have them in Wisconsin), porcupine (Seen once in Alaska),
    Ferret (we have them here), Wolves ( heard but not seen UP of Michigan – Seen in BC Canada. )
    Fox (seen in Wisconsin). Pronghorn (first seen Circle MT)
    Black bear (seen many times and places)
    Grizzly bear ( seen once at Yellowstone )
    Ground hog (commonly seen)
    Prairie dog (somewhat common in North Dakota and Wyoming )

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