DNR to deer hunters: Don’t shoot a wolf

Madison – If deer hunters shoot a wolf this fall, the “mistaken
identity” excuse won’t get them out of trouble.

Last fall, DNR Conservation Warden David Youngquist, of Iowa
County, encountered two cases of hunters shooting wolves. Both deer
hunters believed they had coyotes in their sights when they pulled
the trigger. In each case, Youngquist determined the wolf shooting
was an honest mistake, so he issued warnings and seized the
animals.

This year, however, he’ll be issuing citations for any
accidental wolf kills.”The time for warnings is over,” Youngquist
said. “I think it’s to the point where people need to be more
careful.”

Wisconsin’s winter wolf population, before the 2008 pups were
born, was estimated to be at least 537 to 564 animals in 144 packs,
with 24 lone animals. In all likelihood, that’s a conservative
estimate. Wolf sightings were reported in 44 of the state’s 72
counties, and they likely now inhabit or travel through almost
every county in Wisconsin.

“Virtually all 11 counties that comprise the DNR South-Central
Region have had confirmed reports of wolf sightings,” said DNR
Warden Supervisor Chuck Horn, of Dodgeville. “As the wolf
population in the northern part of the state increases, animals are
naturally dispersed to other areas with the intention of
establishing new packs and territories.”

Deer hunters who mistakenly kill wolves generally believe they
are shooting at coyotes. Some hunters don’t think wolves are in
their area, so the wild-looking canine running past their deer
stand must be a coyote.

Youngquist suggests that all deer hunters look at pictures of
coyotes and wolves and compare the two animals.

“They’re pretty distinctively different,” he said. “First,
there’s a size difference. Coyotes don’t get over 30 to 40 pounds,
while wolves are longer-legged and are 70 to 150 pounds. The faces
look different. Coyotes have more pointed ears and a longer nose
than wolves.”

Wolves are much more massive animals, with blockier snouts and
medium-sized, rounded ears more in proportion to their heads.
Wolves stand 8 inches to a foot higher at the shoulder than
coyotes.

According to DNR records, at least five wolves were killed by
deer hunters in 2007. One was shot Oct. 20 in Iowa County, and
another in Sauk County on Nov. 10. Two more were killed Nov. 20 –
one in Clark County and one in Oneida County – during the
traditional nine-day gun-deer season. Another was shot by a
bowhunter in Winnebago County on Dec. 29.

Coyote hunting is closed in northern Wisconsin during the gun
deer season, the muzzleloader season, and antlerless-only hunts.
The closed counties are: Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, Florence,
Forest, Iron, Oneida, Price, Sawyer, and Vilas counties, and in
portions of Barron, Burnett, Chippewa, Langlade, Lincoln,
Marinette, Menominee, Oconto, Polk, Rusk, Taylor, and Washburn
counties. The closure is designed to eliminate the chance of a deer
hunter mistakenly shooting a wolf in areas where the population is
highest.

Gun deer hunters are more prone than predator hunters to
misidentify and shoot a wolf because many deer hunters don’t spend
as much time in the woods, Youngquist said. Deer hunters who see a
coyote or fox often will take advantage of the opportunity to shoot
the animal.

“Remember, one of the rules of hunter safety is ‘know your
target and beyond,’ ” he said. “If you’re not sure, don’t pull the
trigger.”

Shooting a wolf – even by accident – could be an expensive
error. Fines could run more than $4,000, Horn said.

As of Sept. 29, wolves are again afforded protection under the
federal Endangered Species Act. In response to a lawsuit by an
animal-rights group, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman
ordered wolves relisted as endangered. The Great Lakes population
of wolves, which includes animals in Michigan, Minnesota, and
Wisconsin, was delisted March 12, 2007. More than 4,000 wolves roam
the three states, well above the threshold considered to be a fully
recovered population.

“As wolf numbers increase and challenges to the population
status are addressed down the road, we may once again have a
hunting season for wolves,” Horn said, “Until then, hunters should
be cautious and remember to be sure of their target.”

However, if a hunter shoots a wolf, the best action is to notify
a conservation warden rather than cover up the evidence.

“We’d rather not have (killing a wolf) happen at all,”
Youngquist said. “We’d rather do preventative enforcement.”

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