Hunters kill more wolves than expected as first phase of season ends

Jim Gerald and wolf trophy
Jim Gerold 28, of Prior Lake, spent the opening days of the wolf season on remote state land west of Silver Bay, Minn. On Nov. 7, 2012, a single shot to the heart killed this wolf, a large male weighing 117 pounds.
Photo courtesy of Jim Gerold

There are 147 fewer wolves in northern Minnesota forests today. That's the final tally for the early wolf hunting season that ended Sunday.

The Department of Natural Resources set a limit of 200 wolves for this part of the season. Hunters and trappers will get another chance when the second part of the season begins on Saturday.

The number of wolves killed is higher than some wolf experts predicted.

Many hunters got a wolf license just in case they saw a wolf while deer hunting.

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That makes Jim Gerold unusual. Gerold, 28, of Prior Lake, studied up on wolves and went after them deliberately. He spent the opening days of the wolf season on remote state land west of Silver Bay.

Gerold headed out to a deer stand in the cold predawn hours of Nov. 7, when he heard a single wolf howling in the distance.

"It was a very foggy, misty morning," Gerold said. "I almost felt like I was in a Sherlock Holmes novel."

Soon, another wolf joined in. Gerold used calls mimicking a fawn in distress. He followed that with some coyote calls. The woodland prey-predator scene was designed to draw the wolves in. Their howling continued for three hours.

"Then I heard some footsteps coming from behind me from the east, and this wolf came ... real quick, and from the time I saw him to the time I pulled the trigger, it was probably five or 10 seconds," he said. "I just swung around and he was running through, and I shot."

A single shot to the heart dropped the wolf in its tracks. It was a large male weighing 117 pounds.

Tim Pharis, Jim Gerald
Tim Pharis, left, the DNR's Region 3 assistant area wildlife manager, examines the skull of a timber wolf shot on Nov. 7, 2012, by Jim Gerold, a hunter from Prior Lake.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Gerold got a wolf license because he wanted the ultimate test of his hunting skills -- the legal ability to kill a powerful predator.

"It's tense," he said. "Your heart is racing. All your senses are kind of on edge. You're constantly scanning the woods, looking for movement, trying to listen, hear for things. It's just a very intense experience."

Along with the joy of success, Gerold said, he felt a tinge of regret that morning.

"You're taking a life, and that's not something that you take lightly," he said. "But at the same time, if you're a hunter, your goal is to harvest an animal. So you do feel a sense of regret, a sense of sadness. I don't know of any hunters that don't feel that."

Gerold has turned over the wolf carcass as required for DNR analysis. He will have a taxidermist make a full-body mount once the pelt is returned; he plans to put it in his living room.

Before the start of the early season, DNR wolf expert Dan Stark predicted hunters would take only about 70 wolves. That's well below the final tally.

"That was an informed guess based on what we've seen in other parts of the country where wolf hunting is mostly opportunistic to other big-game hunting," Stark said. "And it was just something that we could base on what we might see here."

Stark said the DNR will learn a lot more from biological data collected from wolf carcasses. When hunters turn in their post-season surveys, it will paint a more complete picture of the season, including where each wolf was killed and which methods hunters found successful.

All of that information will be of interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency turned over management of wolf populations to the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan after the animal was removed from the endangered species list in January.

Now, the only role for federal officials is to monitor those state wolf plans for the next five years.

Laura Ragan, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Minnesota's 400-wolf limit for this hunting and trapping season probably won't affect overall wolf population stability. She said the hunt will provide valuable research data.

"This harvest is taking place during our post de-listing monitoring period," Ragan said, "so it's going to allow us to really take a close look at how some of the management techniques such as public harvest, how those might affect wolves while we're still monitoring them very closely."

DNR wildlife biologists are also conducting the first major population survey of wolves in five years. The survey will be completed in April.