A journey into the woods with Northland wolf trappersAllen Edberg and Scott Honer, both of Fredenberg Township near Duluth, are two of about 800 trappers taking part in Minnesota’s first managed wolf trapping season. They’re optimistic about getting a wolf or two.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
NORTH OF LUTSEN — Allen Edberg threw a frozen beaver carcass on his shoulder Tuesday morning and forged into a tangle of balsam fir a few miles north of Lutsen. He was headed for a small clearing in the forest where he and his trapping partner, Scott Honer, had placed deer and beaver carcasses earlier.
They’re hoping the carcasses will attract a gray wolf.
They have a snare — a loop of strong wire — set nearby. If all goes according to their plan, a wolf approaching the bait will slip its head through the noose of wire, which is designed to constrict around the wolf’s neck, suffocating it.
Allen, 49, and Honer, 52, both of Fredenberg Township near Duluth, are two of about 800 trappers taking part in Minnesota’s first managed wolf trapping season. The season, running concurrently with the state’s late wolf hunting season, will continue until Jan. 31 or until a target harvest set by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reached.
They’re optimistic about getting a wolf or two.
“I think our odds are real good,” Honer said. “I’ve been here long enough to know how they travel in this country.”
During the recent firearms deer season, Honer and his hunting party saw five wolves.
Honer and Edberg are trapping on Honer’s land near the Caribou Trail.
“If we have time, we’ll get one, hopefully two,” Edberg said.
Edberg has been trapping for 40 years, since he was 9 years old. Honer is relatively new to trapping, having taken it up about five years ago.
Plenty of wolf sign
At the baiting site, which is about 20 yards beyond the snare, Edberg dropped the fresh beaver carcass alongside another that had been picked clean — by ravens. The snare was untouched.
The trappers place their snares where a trail funnels down, requiring single-file travel, a so-called “pinch point.”
The men first baited this site three days before the wolf trapping season opened. On that first Saturday, when they went to add more bait before setting a snare, the beaver and deer carcasses they had left were nowhere to be seen.
“There must have been a pack in here,” Honer said. “They went and grabbed the bones and pulled them away. You could see where each had its own corner.”
Now, on Tuesday morning, four days into the season, carcasses left from the previous day’s baiting were stripped of meat but not removed. That told the trappers that ravens, not wolves, had come to feast on the bait.
“Ravens pick at it,” Edberg said. “When wolves come in, it’s gone.”
Wolves typically drag off parts of the carcasses and eat them, consuming bones and all.
“They’re powerful animals,” Edberg said.
With the fresh beaver carcass deposited, Edberg and Honer hopped on their ATVs and headed for their next bait site. They had just four snares set this past week. With fisher and marten season open, a lot of other trappers were in the woods. That season ended Friday. After that, Honer and Edberg planned to get serious about wolves, setting up to 35 snares.
Motivations for wolf trapping
Honer and Edberg each have their own reasons for wanting to trap a wolf. Honer would like to have a full, free-standing wolf mount made for his cabin, where the walls already are adorned with several large whitetail mounts, a bear rug and a moose mount, not to mention numerous brook trout and lake trout.
“The wolf became available, and it intrigued me to see what we could do,” Honer said.
Edberg said he’d like to have a wolf tanned and possibly make a wolf-fur hat from its hide.
If he’s lucky enough to get a wolf, it won’t be his first. He has inadvertently trapped six wolves over the years, some in snares while trapping coyotes and one in a Conibear trap while trapping beavers. Those wolves were turned over to law enforcement authorities.
The men are using snares rather than leg-hold traps, primarily because snares are much less expensive. Honer paid $28 per dozen snares, he said. Snares are usually too damaged after catching an animal to be used again. Leg-hold traps large enough for wolves might run as much as $100 per trap.
Edberg and Honer had to apply for their wolf licenses through a lottery held by the DNR. Honer was selected, but Edberg originally was not. When some licenses went unclaimed, he was successful in nabbing a leftover license.
Both men said they believe the DNR’s estimate of 3,000 wolves in the state is on the low side. A population survey now being conducted by the DNR will offer a more current estimate. The last was made in 2007-08.
In the early wolf hunting season, held during the recent firearms deer season, a total of 147 wolves were taken. Target harvest levels were met in two zones, where the season closed before the end of deer season. One of those zones was the Northeast Zone, where 61 wolves were taken.
In the late hunting and trapping seasons, both of which began Nov. 24, the target harvest for the Northeast Wolf Zone is 56. As of Thursday, 16 wolves had been taken in that zone by hunters and trappers together.
In all, the statewide target harvest for both the early and late wolf seasons is 400 wolves, or about one-eighth of the total estimated wolf population in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s gray wolf was last hunted or trapped nearly 40 years ago. The gray wolf in Minnesota went on the federal Endangered Species List in 1974. The wolf was removed from that list in January and wolf management returned to the state. The Legislature ruled that a wolf hunting season would begin Nov. 3, on the firearms deer opener, and gave the DNR authority to set other aspects of the season.
The season was met with strong opposition by some Minnesotans, and two groups filed an unsuccessful legal action to have the current season stopped. A lawsuit remains unresolved. Some wolf-hunting and wolf-trapping opponents believe the wolf harvest could be detrimental to the population, and others believe that the seasons were implemented too soon after de-listing, without enough public input.
Part of the reason that Edberg and Honer are trapping this year is their uncertainty about whether a season will be held next year, Edberg said.
On the trap line
Edberg and Honer spent a couple of hours checking and placing new bait at their four trapping sites on Tuesday morning. At most of the sites, just one person went to the baiting area to minimize human scent.
None of the baits had been visited overnight by wolves. The trappers didn’t see a single wolf track, although fresh snow had fallen overnight, which reduces the chances of seeing tracks.
But they’re confident wolves are around. They heard howling one night.
“I think they’re working an area,” Edberg said. “They’ll come back here.”
It’s possible that ravens will lead the wolves to a bait site, he said.
“I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll follow the ravens if they’re making a ruckus,” he said.
Meanwhile, Edberg and Honer will continue checking their snares daily, as regulations require, placing fresh bait each day. Wherever the wolves are moving in their travels, Edberg said, they will remember the site where they found the deer and beaver carcasses one recent day.
“And they’ll be back,” Edberg said.
His words carried a 40-year ring of confidence.