Myths, lies and old wives’ tales loom large in the outdoor pursuits. Here at MeatEater, we’re dedicated to separating facts from bullsh*t, so we created this series to examine suspect yarns. If there’s a belief, rumor or long-held assumption you’d like us to fact check, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During World War I, German and Russian forces declared a temporary ceasefire and banded together to hunt wolves. The voracious animals were attracted to the prolific and gruesome scavenging available in the warzone, attacking soldiers and civilians alike.
Multiple newspapers in 1917 reported on this story, including the El Paso Herald, Oklahoma City Times, and New York Times. Since then, it’s become a favorite bit of bar room banter among amateur historians, like the powerful Joe Rogan.
In February of 1917, a dispatch from Berlin noted large packs of wolves moving into populated areas of the German Empire from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia. Locals hypothesized that war efforts displaced the wolves, so the canines started seeking out new hunting grounds.
The hungry wolves infiltrated rural villages, attacking calves, sheep, goats, and in two cases, children. They also showed up on the front lines, feeding on the fallen and sometimes taking advantage of incapacitated fighters.
“Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” reported a 1917 Oklahoma City Times article. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.”
The Russian and German soldiers temporarily stopped being enemies once they found a common foe. Both sides agreed to a cease fire if the wolves interrupted another battle.
“Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance,” according to a 1917 New York Times article. “But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger.
“As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague.”
Though seemingly far-fetched, it turns out these claims are mostly accurate. Historians estimate that soldiers killed hundreds of wolves during the war, and that the surviving wolves fled to escape a “carnage the like of which they had never encountered.”
For a brief moment, a kind of peace spread across the battlefield, even though gunshots and grenade explosions continued to ring out.