Published November 20, 2009, 11:11 AM

The timberwolf — a Minnesota native

The gray wolf is native to our area and still with us. We live with this mysterious creature, yet few of us ever get to see one.

By: Bernie Revering, DL-Online

The gray wolf is native to our area and still with us. We live with this mysterious creature, yet few of us ever get to see one. They’re out there, all right, here in Becker County. In fact, Becker County and Detroit Lakes in particular has a wolf legend. In 1939, an old she wolf killed 139 sheep and 18 deer — with two does having unborn fawns. These, along with an adult buck deer with antlers. Many of the sheep were left uneaten. It just killed the domestic critters. The wolf had a range of about 20 miles and entered the town site of Detroit Lakes. The facts are well documented and are on file in local history volumes.

There are those who see no harm in the timberwolf taking a deer, in the wild, perhaps every ten days or so. Biologists reason that wolves keep the wild animals healthy, by taking out the easier to kill sick, old or crippled animals. There is a lot to be said in favor of taking this viewpoint. Eskimos live on the caribou in the far reaches of the Arctic and do not begrudge the wolves of their kills. They keep the caribou in the best of health, they reason.

Attempts to get control

When America opened to the west, ranching began in earnest in Wyoming, Colorado, both Dakotas, Idaho and Montana. Originally, the ranchers took the predation by wolves as a cost of doing business. But kills became too frequent and ranchers called upon the federal government to start some kind of control. The first of these was to put out strychnine laced carcasses of wild or domestic animals. This worked pretty well, but ranchers lost a lot of their own herds to the poison baits. The first cadre of Federal wolf hunters roamed the ranchland after the Civil War, but these hunters did not kill enough of the wolves to make a significant control. When the wild buffalo roamed the west, wolves were probably here in peak numbers.

The buffalo is a mammoth animal, but groups of wolves, perhaps four or more could take down the bison with regularity.

All of the forested regions of Canada and the Great Lakes states had wolves in large numbers. Here, in the 21st Century, we have more wolves in Minnesota than in any other state. Michigan and Wisconsin have some too.

Wolves were slaughtered by ranchers whenever the opportunity to take one presented itself. Sportsmen added their approval because of the belief that wolves were reducing the game supply. Hunts were organized, particularly in winters of very deep snow.

We have often heard of the hunting stories of Detroit Lakes native Lowell King tell of the many hunts he made in southern Canada. Lowell was quick to point out that shooting from a plane is dangerous, and tricky, but once the technique is learned, it was relatively easy. The hunter, equipped with a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun with buckshot loads would shoot a few feet to the rear of the animals. This was the reverse of leading a target, such as a duck or goose in flight. Few ever mastered the shooting.

Will a wolf attack?

There are authenticated attacks by rabid wolves, but rabies has always been rare in wolves on the North American continent. The best verified attack by a wolf occurred in Ontario in 1942. The subject was hiking along a wooded trail at night, but escaped with some rips, tears, and bruises.

Hearing a wolf howl at night can give one an eerie feeling. On more than one occasion, while awaiting dawn in a deer stand or duck blind, the wail of a wolf will make your hair stand on end and you’ll grip your gun a little tighter. No cause for alarm, however, a wolf never howls, or makes any other sounds when hunting. He’s merely sending signals to others, or is announcing his presence or position.

Hunting wolves is not legal

Minnesota's gray wolves are once again officially endangered.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule Sept. 16 that formally returned about 4,000 gray wolves in the Upper Midwest,including Minnesota, to the federal endangered species list. They were removed from the list in May.

According to the Star Tribune newspaper, the rule sealed a deal made with environmental groups earlier this summer, when the agency promised to reinstate the wolves' protected status while considering its next move.

The new designation makes it illegal for Minnesota landowners to kill wolves they catch in the act of preying upon livestock, pets or guard animals.

If hunting becomes legal again, here are some tips: A wolf trots along at perhaps five miles an hour in a wandering manner. Locating a den old and abandoned or currently occupied is a find indeed. There will be evidence of comings and goings with many tracks, evidence of small prey kills. Wolves travel alone or in pairs. The best bait is the entrails of a deer or domestic animal or bird — the more stench, the better. A wolf sniffs the ground, and if your bait is anywhere within the hunting range of a wolf he’ll find it. You must hunt upwind; have scent stifling preparations prior to hunting before you ever enter the woods.

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