A few weeks back I speculated that wolf hunting, whatever you might think of the whole business, could turn out to be more difficult here in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan than it’s been out in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. But I wondered if it might be easier for hunters using bait. I even made a couple lame jokes about the idea. “I wonder…,” I wrote, “what kind of bait? Roadkill deer, which may become harder to find the week before wolf season? Dead sheep? A live goat tied to a stake, as was once used when hunting tigers in India?”
Just after that I talked with someone from the DNR, who reminded me that none of those baits would be legal. Just so you know. In Wisconsin, at least, hunting wolves over bait won’t be anything like what most people would imagine. Nearly everyone who’s seriously planning to do it knows exactly how it’s done. They’re getting ready now, and in a way they’ve been preparing for years. For all the rest of us, here’s the scoop.
To slightly oversimplify, wolf hunters can follow either the bear rules or the deer rules. In Wisconsin, “deer rules” means a maximum bait amount of two gallons at any one site. (For most deer hunters who bait, that means two gallons of corn.) “Bear rules” means a maximum of five gallons, but the bait must be covered with large rocks or logs that prevent deer from reaching it. (This has the added benefit of preventing raccoons or other animals from eating all the bait before a bear arrives.)
In either case, meat and meat byproducts are not allowed. Also forbidden are substances that would be poison, either intentionally or accidentally. Not being a dog owner, I had no idea. But apparently chocolate and raisins are bad for canids. Not allowed. Other substances may soon be added to the list. The artificial sweetener Xylitol, for example, can be deadly for dogs. So for dogs and wolves alike, sugar-free gum is to be avoided.
Wolf hunters will be allowed to watch over a gut pile from a deer that’s been legally harvested by them or someone else. But other than that, no meat. So why, you’re wondering, would wolves, being the carnivores they are, even be interested in vegetarian bait? The answer is surprising, and it has to do mainly with bear bait sites.
Some bear hunters sit in a treestand and watch over bait, while others chase bears with hounds until they’re treed. But even most hound hunters maintain bait sites as a place for their hounds to pick up a scent and start the chase. Out on public land here in the north woods, these bait sites are everywhere. They draw bears, but they also lure in all sorts of other wildlife. Some species come for the bait, and others for the hunting. Some are carnivores, but some are omnivores—in a few cases, newly converted omnivores. Apparently trailcams have caught a number of embarrassed wolves wolfing down stale donuts meant for bears.
These bait sites, often maintained in the same location for years, have become signposts, busy intersections, and food web focal points. Although they’re only replenished on a regular basis for three or four months of the year, they remain an important crossroads for twelve months of the year. Everyone stops by, if only to see who else has stopped by. Fishers and other animals that are highly territorial make an exception for bait sites. After all, there’s plenty for everyone. If you were going to sit in a treestand and wait for a wolf to saunter by, one of the very best places to do that would be at a bear bait site.
From an ecological standpoint, bear bait is also interesting because it represents such a huge artificial pulse of energy, one that’s significant even at a landscape level. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of ways this could potentially distort the ecological balance. Here’s just one: Many bears are now having twins and triplets, something that was almost unheard of twenty years ago. Bears are a leading predator of fawns; the WI DNR estimates they take over twice as many deer as coyotes do, and nearly three times as many as wolves. Bear hunters often blame wolves for taking “their” deer, but…
How much bait are bear hunters actualy putting out there on the landscape? It’s hard to say. But just a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation based on hunter numbers and typical baiting amounts and frequencies adds up to… a lot. Imagine whole convoys of semi-trailers driving north with full loads of stale donuts, pie filling, and fryer grease. Enough so that some entrepreneurs make serious money buying expired bake goods or fillings and then reselling them to bear hunters by the truck load.
So if no meat or meat byproducts are allowed, then just what exactly is on the menu? To see for yourself, all it takes is a quick online search for words like “bear bait for sale.” Here’s a very partial list of what you’ll find at dealers’ websites:
Apple topping, wonder glaze white icing, peach topping (cubed peaches), custard (runny), pure white sugar, apple filling pouches, fruit snacks, liquid smoke, fryer grease, lemon filling, orange & glossy frosting, weatherproof candies, licorice, cherry pie filling, cream cheese frosting, caramel bun smear, strawberry cream, Bavarian and strawberry cream, peanut butter, cookie dough, whole mixed cookies, cream filled sugar wafers, pretzels, boysenberry fruit filling, sticky granola, dry granola, sugar cones, brown sugar, Andes candies, marshmallow ripple, butterscotch ripple, butter creme, circus peanuts, cashews, almonds, craisins, sunflower seeds, blueberry pie filling, raspberry pie filling, Cinnabon cinnamon sugar, dates, dried appricots and peaches, and strawberry preserves.
One bait dealer notes that “Delivery is available for 4,000 pounds or more up to 18,000 pounds.”
© 2012 Al Cambronne