Second wolf incident reported at Colburn

Madison — The DNR has confirmed that a second wolf/human incident occurred at the Colburn Wildlife Area in Adams County during the youth deer hunt on Saturday, Oct. 10.

That incident involved a father and son who had one wolf pass by them at about 10 feet and a following wolf come to within 5 feet before a shot was fired into the air, according to DNR Chief Warden Todd Schaller.

“They then walked out and had another interaction – a wolf came within about 30 yards of them and they fired another shot,” Schaller said. “They didn’t indicate whether they thought the wolf was following them. They just noticed it.”

The father reported the incident to the DNR, but did not want to be contacted by the media, Schaller said. The hunters are from out of the area, but had hunted the Colburn Wildlife Area in the past, he said.

That incident followed a reported Sept. 23 wolf attack on Matthew Nellessen, of Big Flats, that also took place at the Colburn Wildlife Area. Nellessen said he encountered three wolves. He kicked at the head of the first wolf that came at him, then fired his .380 handgun at the second wolf as it closed, hitting it, but not immediately killing it. No carcass was found the next day when a DNR conservation warden and wildlife biologist returned to the site with Nellessen. They found blood and followed it, but the blood trail disappeared short of finding a wolf carcass.

The DNR temporarily closed two of three public access points/parking areas at Colburn nearest the attack site to allow a USDA Wildlife Services team to set wolf traps. Had the Wildlife Services crew caught any wolves, they would have been euthanized, said Dave MacFarland, state wolf program coordinator.

Dan Hirtchert, the USDA’s Wisconsin Wildlife Services director, said the traps were removed last week due to a lack of wolf activity. No wolves were trapped.

Youth hunt incident

According to the DNR, the father and son were deer hunting from the ground – stationary – Oct. 10 when a wolf ran toward them, but then veered off and passed by at about 10 feet.

A second wolf followed the first, but came on a line that would have had it run into the father and son – or nearly so. They fired one shot in the air when that wolf was about 5 feet away, Schaller said.

“They notified the DNR. They never shot at the wolf. They shot in the air to scare it. We investigated it as far as getting the details to understand the total situation,” he said.

“There was a second wolf following roughly the same path. It got closer than the first and that’s when they shot into the air,” Schaller said. “In the direction they were running, they wouldn’t have smelled the hunters (because of wind direction). The wolves were in the area and going by them.”

No charges for Nellessen

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and DNR investigators cleared Nellessen of any wrongdoing in discharging his firearm at a wolf in the Sept. 23 incident.

“With the available information, no law enforcement action being taken. It’s closed from a law enforcement perspective,” Schaller said.

For the record, the DNR is not using the word “attack” to describe what happened to Nellessen because no one was injured. MacFarland explained the agency’s distinction during a phone interview.

Nellessen has a different view.

“Well, they weren’t trying to lick me to death,” he said.

“You do not have to be harmed to be attacked,” Nellessen said. “They can label it whatever they want to label it. I thought I was going to die and I had to defend myself. That first wolf’s teeth just missed my thigh.

“I let the authorities know what happened. I took them to where it happened. I could have walked away and not said anything, but what if something would have happened to someone else? I had to report it.

“If I saw a roadside bomb and kept my mouth shut and someone came behind me and got blown up – that’s just it’s like me pulling the trigger,” said Nellessen, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served with the 961st Engineers in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007.

“There was a scary amount of wolf sign in there. When I was attacked by those wolves, I think I was right on the edge of all of that wolf sign. When we tracked them the next day, that whole ridge was full of wolf sign,” he said.

Schaller and MacFarland said the DNR and USFWS had to investigate the attack under the guidelines of the Endangered Species Act because Great Lakes wolves have been relisted by a federal judge.

“We had to make sure that it all falls into line with Endangered Species Act, which allows a person – in defense of their own life or lives of others – to kill an endangered species,” Schaller said.

The last interview was conducted by USFWS agent Ron Kramer, of Duluth, Minn. Nellessen said he believes that interview went well. Kramer did not return a call prior to press time for this issue.

The Wildlife Services trapping effort is a standard response to human safety concerns, MacFarland said.

“We implemented human safety protocols as we have in the past if we think there is a concern,” he said. “We closed two of the parking areas with access to the area where the incident occurred.”

One is at Hwy. C and 5th Avenue along the northern border; the other is on Blackhawk Road on the parcel’s eastern side. The Colburn has three official parking areas.

“The two that were temporarily closed lead fairly directly to the area,” he said.

MacFarland said trapping in such a case is not unprecedented.

“It’s a standard protocol for human health and safety issues,” he said.

MacFarland said there was “significant wolf sign” on the ridge that Nellessen wanted to scout for archery deer-hunting purposes.

“We went there and checked things out. It’s not possible to accurately count wolves (that used that site based on the sign), but it’s clear that it was an area of consistent and high use. How many there were I can’t say with any confidence. The period of heavy usage should begin to break down. Pups are maturing and the packs will soon be entering a more nomadic phase … of territory use. They shouldn’t be tied to any one location.

“This is the southern extent (of wolves in Wisconsin), but it’s been consistently occupied. We do have wolves farther south, but the Colburn area has been occupied for a number of years. This is not a new wolf pack,” MacFarland said.

Nellessen, 34, said he never used to carry a gun while hunting when he was younger.

“I was walked out of the woods by a black bear when I was 21 and all I had was a bow, a treestand, and a flashlight. It got about 15 yards from me at one point. Shortly after that I started carrying a pistol,” he said.

Nellessen had never been in the Colburn prior to that day.

“I found a ridge that I wanted to scout and then work my way back to the truck. I wasn’t on the peak of the ridge. I was sort of working my way along it just down from the top. It is relatively open – some brush. There’s a little thicker canopy on top of the ridge,” he said.

“When I saw movement from the first wolf at first I thought it was a deer. Then everything went so fast. I saw its legs, then I saw the animal. I thought, ‘Oh crap, is that a wolf or dog?’ I dropped my water bottle, grabbed my pistol, and racked a round, and by then the one on the right was already coming at me. I had no time to back out. It happened so fast.”

Nellessen kicked at the head of the first wolf that went for his leg. He missed, but jumped back enough to avoid its teeth. When the second wolf came at him from the left, he fired without really even aiming, but he saw it react to the bullet.

“The first two took off back the way they came. The one I hit went off my left shoulder, but I didn’t care to find out where it went. The scariest part was exiting,” he said.

Two of the wolves were standard colors. He said the third wolf was black.

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