So… Who wants to go wolf hunting?

“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

 

About alcambronne

I write about nature and the environment. My latest book is DEERLAND: America's Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness.
This entry was posted in Wolves. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to So… Who wants to go wolf hunting?

  1. Carrie Z says:

    An interesting article and you pose a lot of questions here.
    I, like yourself hunt for meat not necessarily for sport.
    It’s why I am not a fan of trapping – I understand the reasons behind it and I’m not against it, I just happen to think its wasteful.

    In some ways I applaud the fact that we are embracing an additional revenue stream that satisfies the wants of some WI hunters.

    But again, is it necessary? It’s not like we are overrun with wolves like we are deer and herd management is necessary.

    Or is it simply bowing to the “wants” of the hunters that holler the loudest (much like doing away with EAB)?

    Because let’s be honest -we’re going to have a wolf hunt because we can, not for any actual conservation reason.

    Would I eagerly anticipated the day I can throw my name in the lottery? No.
    Would I go hunt them if given the opportunity? Probably.
    Would I find something to do with the pelt?
    Absolutely.

    ~ CarrieZ

    • alcambronne says:

      Interesting comparison with EAB and Wisconsin’s “deer hunting heritage bill.” Maybe some of the same hunters who supported that bill would also get behind any bill offering the opportunity of a wolf hunt.

  2. Erik Jensen says:

    I’m a no, I’m not going wolf hunting, for the simple practical reason that hunting is a high-commitment activity, and I’m sure wolf hunting is esp so. This year I’m doing a lot of deer hunting, esp with this mild winter, there will be lots of deer in the woods, so hopefully lots of venison. I’m teaching others (Minneapolis co-op members) to hunt. I’m training a dog that fortunately I won’t have to own, but will have access to, which will help with my casual upland game hunting….as well as…I’m re-connecting with waterfowl hunting that I did many years ago as a younger hunter, what I grew up with, so I can teach my young daughters to hunt (the dog will help with that, too). I live about 4 hours away from prime wolf territory. I’m learning turkey hunting, again, for future hunts with my daughters. There is no minimum age in MN for these bird hunts, and youth get special hunts for both waterfowl and turkey hunting.

    I have no ideological opposition to VERY cautious predator control that does not cause overgrazing by creating deer, elk and moose populations that are too high. The issue is, who has time and money for wolf hunting ? If I lived in the woods all the time (in wolf territory), had to work very little in the cash economy, (maybe that would mean I had significantly less material possessions than now) I would probably do it, esp if I had a dog. I’d kill a wolf and make the skin into a blanket and feed the meat to the dog if it didn’t taste good to me. Otherwise, a horrible investment of time and energy for an urban person who is an avid hunter. It would even be a distraction if i was allowed to shoot one during deer season, like the MN Deer Hunters Association proposes. I’m trying to kill a deer, not a wolf !

  3. Erik Jensen says:

    I forgot to mention I want to spend some time fighting sulfide mining and fighting for more walking-only hunting areas ! Good post, BTW.

  4. Holly A. Kuusinen says:

    I served on the Timber Wolf Recovery Team while a Public Information Officer at DNR in the late 1980s. At that time, our goal to see a self-sustaining wild population of grey wolves seemed impossible. I never dreamed that all my work, public information meetings, writings and special events would ultimately result in a season to hunt them. The Bureau of Endangered Resources at DNR, The Timber Wolf Alliance, The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and other organizations supported wolf recovery thru donations to the tax checkoff and directed donations that over the past 25 years no doubt amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. If a wolf season was truly the ultimate goal, then shame on me for being so naive. Hunt wolves for food? Doubt it. Hunt wolves for the fur? Where are you going to wear it where you won’t have to worry about having red paint dumped on you? (Yes, they are still out there.) How long will it take for the population to plunge due to the soon to be right to shoot a wolf without a permit if on private land? Got a hunk of private forest land in wolf country? I do. Got a German Shepherd that you walk on that land? I do.
    Like to walk in the woods at night? I do. Do you allow hunting on your land? I do. Or maybe I should say, I did. Should farmers be allowed to protect their livestock from wolves? You bet.
    Is there really sport in hunting wolves? Bald Eagles aren’t endangered anymore. I hear they taste a little fishy, but heck, why not have a sport hunting season on eagles? DNR could use the permit money. You could mount one for your mantle. Probably won’t eat them; suppose you could use the feathers for fly tying. But what about the tax deductible donations made by thousands of residents over the years? I didn’t donate my hard earned money to create another “sport.” Why this suddent “need” to shoot wolves for sport?

    • alcambronne says:

      Holly — First, thanks for all the hard work you did back then. I, too, hope that a wolf hunt was never the ultimate goal. It probably wasn’t, but now one seems imminent.

      Now that wolves have been delisted, I’m OK with someone from APHIS trapping a few wolves that are depredating livestock. That could allow the remaining wolves to be better tolerated. And I suppose a similar “social carrying capacity safety valve” argument could be made for hunting. I’m not sure, however, that it would hold water in quite the same way. But who knows?

      You make some excellent points, and I have to admit your eagle analogy is an apt one. I just hope you won’t be giving anyone in our state legislature any ideas…

  5. somsai says:

    First I’d like to correct a misconception about dog eating in Asia. It’s not a back alley on the seedier side of town thing but rather expensive and very popular in Vietnam and Korea. Hundreds of dogs are gathered in Thailand (because being a Buddhist country they can’t euthanize them) crated up along the Mekong, ferried across to be carried on flatbed trucks over Laos a short way to Vietnam. Hundreds a week. I’ve lived there, recently. Riding behind a truck with 150 crated dogs hot and fearful stinks to high heaven.

    I’d wait to hear what your division of wildlife recommends. On all issues animal in my state I take my direction from the state division of Fish and Wildlife. If they have a particular population goal in mind that would have a bearing. Many people have different motivations for predator hunting, but from a biological perspective it is about controlling populations.

    I don’t think hunting wolves will be popular enough. In the Northern Rockies they’ve had to supplement hunting with helicopters. Some of the herds that have taken decades to build have been badly hurt. The largest migrating elk herd on the planet is down 75% by last years numbers. Many herds have calf ratios of five or six percent per hundred cows, far below replacement, these are once magnificent herds in severe decline.

    I know you are talking about the midwest, and I wish you all the best of luck, if they aren’t affecting ungulate populations I guess it doesn’t matter. How are your moose doing? Does your state keep very accurate counts of wolves and ungulates?

    • alcambronne says:

      Somsai — Thanks for stopping by! Sounds like you had some interesting experiences in Thailand, Laos, and/or Vietnam. My story was from Taiwan, where I lived for a while way back when. So there may have been some cultural differences related to that particular dish. I’ve heard it’s now illegal and enjoyed less commonly there, but still popular in certain parts of the mainland—and apparently in Vietnam and Korea, too. But I digress. That was just kind of an extra story, along with the movie anecdote, to suggest that maybe eating wolves wasn’t the main reason for a hunt.

      Personally, I’d agree with you 100% about going with what the wildlife professionals say. But here in Wisconsin we have a culture of hunters not trusting those recommendations. The DNR does keep pretty accurate counts of both species. But as one retired deer biologist told me, “Mysteriously, after 50 years in the deer business, I’ve never had a hunter accuse me of underestimating the number of deer or overestimating the number of wolves.”

      They do eat some deer, and I never get optimistic about the odds when I’m out hunting and come across wolf tracks and other sign. On the other hand, last fall I hunted and got a couple deer on a farm where the guy was getting reimbursed for deer damage AND wolf depredations, both on the same farm. And when wolves move in they displace the coyotes from a territory, so it might be almost an even trade.

      Not many elk here in Wisconsin. Only a small herd reintroduced in an area a ways east of here. And we have only a few rare moose wandering in from Minnesota. I’m over in the NW corner of the state, and one was spotted about five miles from here last summer. The DNR was initially skeptical since the sighting was just down the road from the Moose River Bar. But it turned out to be for real.

      I heard something on the radio the other day about Minnesota’s moose population dropping rapidly. I think there are about half as many left as there were just ten years ago. Apparently it’s due to disease and parasites, and possibly related to the warmer summers we’ve been having. Apparently they don’t do well in the heat. MN may not even have a season this year.

  6. Mark Johnson says:

    Al – A friend just informed me of your blog. My compliments on a very thoughtful piece regarding wolves and their potential harvest via hunting/trapping. Times change, as do wildlife populations and individual expectations, but wildlife management stays steady and thoughtful thanks to the reliance upon scientific principles.

    • alcambronne says:

      Mark — Thanks for stopping by! I’m with you; it’s good when wildlife management is based on scientific principles rather than on politics or folk wisdom. I think it will be fascinating to watch all this unfold over the months to come. Should be interesting!