“So… Who wants to go wolf hunting? Seriously. Who wants to go wolf hunting?”
I first heard these words almost a year ago at the Midwest Wolf Steward Conference. Two speakers, Dennis Udovich from the Minnesota Bear Guide Association and Mark Johnson from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, were beginning a presentation that was very different from the others we’d been hearing all day from geneticists, ecologists, biologists, and wildlife managers. They began with this rhetorical question, and then reminded us that recovering wolf populations here in the Midwest had already reached a level that made delisting imminent. For years we’d been talking about how we’d get to that day. But so far we’d given very little thought to what would happen the day after.
For one thing, it seemed likely that Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan would soon be holding wolf hunts. Whether we liked that idea or not, it was going to happen. So how should a hunt be structured and managed? And how would we measure the hunt’s success? Harvest numbers? Hunter participation? Money earned for each state’s DNR? Greater tolerance and acceptance of the wolves remaining the day after wolf season ended? It was time to begin a serious discussion of these issues.
Immediately, Johnson and Udovich had our rapt attention. But as I watched them outline possible answers to all those questions, I wondered if their calculations were a little on the optimistic side. Were there really that many people out there who wanted to go wolf hunting? And would they really pay that much for the privilege? Time will tell.
Now, less than a year later, both Minnesota and Wisconsin are planning hunts that could begin as early as this fall. It seems likely that by the fall of 2013 all three states will hold a wolf season. The details are still being ironed out, and almost every day we’ve been hearing about new proposals and amendments. As an example, the other day I read that lawmakers in one state were debating the season’s start date. One wanted an early start so hunters could enjoy a longer season, and another wanted a late start so wolf pelts would be in prime condition when the season opened. Although this seemed like a small detail, it was about underlying motives and values. Assuming wolves should be hunted in the first place (and not everyone is making that assumption), are they vermin to be exterminated, or trophies and furbearers to be valued?
So will the hunt lead us to value wolves more, or less? Will it help solve livestock depredation problems, or will hunters end up shooting innocent wolves that hadn’t been bothering anyone? Will hunters even manage to shoot all that many wolves? And when wolves become more wary, will harvest rates decline even further? What about hunter participation levels? When the novelty wears off, what then?
The hunt will raise many more questions, and undoubtedly much controversy. Tomorrow the Wisconsin state legislature is holding a public hearing in Madison, and some speakers will probably question whether there should even be a wolf hunt. By now, however, that question may already be moot. The train seems to have left the station. But so many other questions remain. If you’re a hunter, I’m especially curious to hear your answer to these two: Will you join in the next wolf hunt? (Or, if you’re not from Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan, would you?) And why or why not?
Myself? No, thanks. Although for the most part I do enjoy the process of hunting, I’m also very interested in the product—and by that I mean the most useful product. When I hunt deer, I’m after venison. I’m not into antlers or taxidermy. I know some people are, and I don’t have a problem with that. But I mostly like to hunt things I can eat.
I’m guessing that will not be the motivation for most wolf hunters. Technically, I suppose you could eat wolves. The other day I read about a new movie called The Grey. Apparently it’s about some guys surviving after a plane crash on the tundra, and hungry wolves are circling. Somehow they manage to kill and eat one of the wolves. So at least for the moment, the humans are less hungry. To prepare for their roles, the actors sampled stew made from a wolf that had been legally harvested in British Columbia. It seems only Liam Neeson kept his down, and he claims to have gone back for seconds.
A long time ago I spent a few years in Asia. I remember one or two occasions when social obligations required me to partake of strong drink and a delicious stew containing what was known locally as “fragrant meat.” It’s said to balance one’s chi in a way that’s especially beneficial in the wintertime. The stew was expensive and seemed to include more noodles than meat. I noticed that it did, however, include bits of star anise meant to make it taste meatier than it was. (This spice is also a common ingredient in many of the regional cuisine’s vegetarian dishes.) Even back then, this traditional dish was a national embarrassment for certain countries, and it could only be found in rural backwaters or in a large city’s more questionable neighborhoods. By now this tradition is nearly forgotten, and that’s probably for the best. Traditionally, however, black dogs were said to be tastiest, followed by brown, grey, spotted, and then white.
I’m open-minded, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts. For me, wolf stew wouldn’t be motivation enough. Still, there may be other reasons that will motivate thousands of Midwesterners—and also nonresidents from outside the Midwest—to head for the woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Upper Michigan and give wolf hunting a try.
If you’re a hunter, will you be one of them? Why or why not? And if you’re not a hunter, you should feel free to weigh in, too. What do you make of this whole business?
© 2012 Al Cambronne