Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Five wolves harvested with the use of hounds

Shell Lake, Wis. — As of Dec. 13, Wisconsin hunters had registered five wolves as being harvested with the use of trailing hounds with no “dog-fighting” episodes reported in any of the runs that produced wolves.

This marks the first time in the brief history of the state’s new wolf season that hounds were used to harvest wolves. In fact, Wisconsin is the only state that allows hound hunting for wolves.

The law that created the state’s wolf season allows for the use of hounds after the gun deer season, if wolf quotas still remain in any of the six zones.

This year, Dec. 2 marked the day that Wisconsin hunters could legally hunt wolves with dogs for what may be the first time since Teddy Roosevelt did just that more than 100 year ago.

The hunt was approved by the Legislature in the spring of 2012.  Now, although a Dane County judge issued an injunction stopping the hunt, the injunction was lifted in January, allowing the use of dogs this December.

The use of dogs is restricted to Zone 3, the last zone that still had a wolf quota when hound use became legal. Zone 3 is made up of parts of Burnett, Washburn, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, and Price counties. At of this writing on Dec. 17, 48 of the allowable harvest of 71 wolves had been taken from Zone 3. Hunters using dogs registered five of them. The wolf season ends Feb. 28 unless the Zone 3 quota is met before then.

The hunt has been controversial, and efforts to stop it are being initiated by a variety of groups.  Concerns exist about injuries to dogs and wolves, but the question of whether this is a legitimate concern remains. In the absence of any past hunts from which to draw conclusions, this year’s season may shed some light on the issue.

Wisconsin Outdoor News has been in contact with one of the parties that harvested two wolves with the use of dogs. Because of concerns about threats directed to other wolf harvesters, as have been published in WON and elsewhere, these hunters have asked to remain anonymous. This hunting group is made up of sportsmen who say they wouldn’t put their dogs in a situation where a strong possibility of them being injured or killed exists. As one member of the group put it, “There are risks when my kids play football, too, and it’s a risk I accept.”

These hunters haven’t lost a dog to a wolf, although they have come upon wolves when bear hunting. 

“Our biggest concern over having a bad encounter with a wolf isn’t during the December hunting season; it’s in summer and early fall during the bear training and hunting season, especially if we get near a rendezvous site,” one of the hunters said.

Rendezvous sites are locations where pups are left for periods of time while the adults are hunting.  These sites are used from mid-June until early fall, when the pups are strong enough to keep up with the pack. Wolves are protective of their young during that time of the year.

“We’re not going to release out dogs where there are tracks of multiple wolves, either,” the hunter said. “We typically look for single tracks. When we release our dogs, which are basically athletes that are doing what they’ve been bred to do, we expect them to bay up the wolf just like they do with the bears we chase that don’t climb a tree.”

Baying up is a term used by hound hunters when a pursued animal holds its ground as the dogs circle it. In the case of all wolf/hound harvests so far, the dogs did not attack any wolf that bayed up, nor did any wolf or wolves attack the dogs. Earlier this year, hound hunters told WON that pursued wolves act differently than do wolves that are pursuing dogs.

“That’s exactly what’s happened this year with the wolves. None of our dogs were hurt during the chase, nor was the wolf bit by the dogs before the animal was killed,” the hunter said. “In fact, the dogs stayed farther away from the wolf than they did when they’ve had a bear bayed up.”

Many of the historical accounts of the Roosevelt era talk about specialized hounds used to chase wolves – big dogs such as staghounds and wolfhounds that likely did kill the wolves, but these Wisconsin hunters used Walker hounds, the same dogs with which they hunt bears.

These dogs, which normally weigh 45 to 65 pounds, are fast, agile, and vocal, with a distinctive bay that allows the owners to identify their hounds from far away. Walker hounds are known for their intelligence and even-tempered nature.

They also enjoy interacting with humans, but are “track hungry,” which means they’re tireless and intense when following a scent. 

“These aren’t fighting dogs, they’re family-raised pets,” the hunter said. “The smaller dogs in the 40- to 50-pound range, mostly smaller females, were the ones that caught and bayed up the larger wolf,” he said.

Although allowed to use up to six dogs when tracking or trailing a wolf, the hunting group never needed to use that many dogs.

“We only used two to three dogs on the wolf,” the hunter said.

When asked to elaborate on the nature of the dogs and wolves during the hunt, the hunter said individual wolves behave differently than does a pack of wolves. 

“Single wolves aren’t nearly as bold as a pack of wolves will be.  Although our hunt went several miles before the wolf bayed up, all on public forest land, too, no private property, the wolves weren’t aggressive toward the dogs,” he said.
On the morning of their first successful hunt, the crew was on the road looking for fresh tracks well before daylight. When they found the wolf track crossing a road, they followed it to a flowage where it had drifted shut from blowing snow.

“From there we went in on foot and hiked the area until we found where they had bedded down several times around a buck fawn they had killed,” the hunter said. “Without the dogs, we continued hiking on the track until we kicked up the pair and saw they separated, which is when we put a couple dogs down on a single track.”

The chase went for several hours, but eventually the wolf bayed up and the hunters moved in for the kill.

“Respect was given by both hound and wolf. They kept their distance from each other and the dogs just bayed until we arrived,” the hunter said.

The hunters were willing to share their experience as a way of documenting exactly what has happened so far during their wolf/dog hunts.

The DNR’s Dave MacFarland, who works with the wolf program, has interviewed this hunting group and others that have registered wolves taken with the use of hounds. He said his questioning bears out the fact that so far, there have been no wolf/dog fights as predicted by opponents of the wolf season.

MacFarland said that not all five wolves bayed up. In some cases, hunters with wolf tags got ahead of the wolf and shot it as it came by.

“To our knowledge, there have not been injuries to the dogs or to the wolves from the dogs,” MacFarland said.

According to a Wisconsin Public Radio report, Kenosha resident Elizabeth Huntley, of Wisconsin Wolf Defenders, and other members of the Wisconsin Wolf Front were to have met in Madison on Dec. 14 to develop a plan for lobbying state legislators for a change in the wolf season framework.

Editor’s note: Skeptics may well point out that Dave Zeug did not accompany this group on their hunts, but as a retired warden and seasoned investigator who hunts, fishes, and traps, Zeug also knows these hunters, knows how they hunt and train their hounds, and is confident the facts, as related, are accurate.

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