Minnesota hunters and trappers killed 17 wolves over the weekend, which marked the start of the second half of the state's first managed wolf season.
During the earlier part of the season, hunters killed 147 wolves. The late season runs through the end of January, but the DNR will shut it down early if hunters and trappers reach an overall limit of 400 wolves.
In north-central Minnesota over the weekend, 16-year-old Koltin Wagner was among nearly 800 Minnesota trappers who are the first to legally trap wolves since the early 1970s.
He followed wolf tracks in the snow along a logging trail in the Chippewa National Forest, about 25 miles northeast of Grand Rapids.
Wagner's grandfather taught him how to snare rabbits when he was only 7. He has been trapping ever since.
"I've trapped fox. I've went after coyote. I've went after otter, beaver, muskrats," Wagner said. "And now the main thing this fall is just going after the big wolf."
On a deer path a few feet into the woods, Wagner hung a snare from a fallen tree. The looped metal cable is designed to slip around a wolf's neck.
About 20 feet down the trail, he left a skinned muskrat carcass as bait, hoping the smell would lure the predator into his snare.
In all, Wagner set up about 10 snares and foot-hold traps over the weekend. He is required to check the traps every day. He carried a .22-caliber rifle with him to kill a wolf if one ended up stuck in one of his traps.
If he gets a wolf he plans to hang the pelt on his wall. Wagner said he loves trapping, and a wolf would be the ultimate prize.
"Every time you go to check your traps it's like a little kid on Christmas morning," Wagner said. "You're always excited, and you're ready to see if you've got what you're after."
Wagner learned a few tricks from his neighbor, 66-year-old Joe Edminster, a master trapper. He did not get a wolf tag this year, but he trapped wolves in the late 1960s. He figures he caught about a dozen back then.
"The wolf is just a prestigious animal as far as, you know, he's really something that almost every trapper that I know of would want to catch one," Edminster said.
Wolves are smart animals, he said, and that's what makes trapping one a challenge.
"It just isn't easy to go catch one of these animals," Edminster said. "You've got all the woods out there. You can just look out and see forever. And you've got to make that animal step right there, on a 50-cent piece. You have to know what he eats, where he travels and where he lives to be able to catch him."
Not everyone was excited about this year's wolf hunt. Karen Updegraff, who lives at the southern edge of the Superior National Forest, about 40 miles northeast of Duluth, said she thought trapping animals only for their fur is barbaric.
Updegraff worried about traps set up in the forest surrounding her home.
"We and our neighbors like to walk in the woods," she said. "We ski in the woods. We take our dogs out to the woods. And the idea that we are using public lands, and we are sharing it with trappers in particular, is of deep concern, because dogs get caught in traps. We've had it happen to us before, and it seems more likely to happen again."
The wolf season means there will be more people in the woods carrying guns, too. Of the 2,400 late-season wolf licenses issued by the DNR, more than 1,600 will be rifle hunters.
Jim Gerold of Prior Lake was among the hunters who succeeded in the first half of the season. He shot a 117-pound wolf in far northeastern Minnesota.
The early season happened at the same time as the deer hunt, and Gerold said that may have been a distraction to some hunters. He thinks second season hunters will be more focused.
"They're going to employ a lot of baiting," Gerold said. "They're going to be rounding up deer carcasses from the season, and I've heard beaver pelts or beaver carcasses work good. And they'll be doing more calling, too. So I do think they're going to be more successful than the first season hunters.
DNR officials say trappers are likely to have the most success with killing wolves. But state wolf experts declined to guess how many wolves would be taken during the late season. The agency's early season wolf kill estimate fell far short of the actual number of wolves taken.