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Wolf-killing by the numbers: Trappers outdo hunters — and stir public outrage

REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
As of last week, two of DNR's three wolf zones were closed for the duration and the overall tally, at this writing, is approaching 300.

Today may mark the midpoint of Minnesota’s new trapping and hunting seasons on wolves, which began Nov. 3 and will run through Jan. 31. 

Or maybe not. Policy calls for the Minnesota Department of Resources to end the wolf “harvest” as soon as its target of 400 wolf kills is reached, and with each passing day, that goal seems likelier to be reached early.

As of last week, two of DNR’s three wolf zones were closed for the duration and the overall tally, at this writing, is approaching 300 (updates and a map are available here).

This means roughly three-quarters of the quota has been filled in the first half of a two-part schedule that began with hunting only, then moved into a combined trapping and hunting phase just after Thanksgiving.

By the way, the same pattern is shaping up in Wisconsin, where the trapping/hunting season started two weeks earlier than Minnesota’s and is set to run a month longer. At this writing, five of the six zones had been closed; seven more kills will fill the state’s quota of 201.

So much for the blithe predictions in both states that the wily wolf would prove more than a match for trappers and hunters, even if 200,000 Minnesota deer hunters “flooded the zone” during the early-November seasons.

Trappers outdo hunters, 2 to 1

The Strib’s Doug Smith had an interesting analysis of the Minnesota numbers in Saturday’s paper, including these points drawn from DNR stats:

  • As expected, trappers are taking a lot more wolves than hunters: more than twice as many in the combined trapping/hunting season that began Nov. 24, even though hunters outnumber trappers by the same 2-to-1 proportion in the woods right now.

“We’ve known that trapping is the most effective method to take wolves, so it’s not surprising,” said Ed Boggess, Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division director. “Trappers can place multiple sets, and the traps are out there 24 hours a day. Hunters have to be there when the wolf is there.”

  • During the hunting-only season, about 85 percent of the 147 wolves killed across the state were taken “incidentally” by hunters who were also after deer. Three of them had been radio-collared for research purposes.
  • In addition to wolves killed recreationally, another 267 had been killed by federal and state trappers responding to complaints of livestock losses, and 16 more were killed by citizens “protecting livestock or pets.”

The DNR told Smith that Minnesota’s wolf population, now estimated at about 3,000, could withstand losses in the range of 30 percent for “a number of years” before its recovery would be threatened.

Thirty percent would be about 900 wolves, and at this point the combined tally of kills from all sources appears likely to stay below that in this first year of managed sport killing – assuming, of course, that all hunters, trappers and livestock-protecting citizens are scrupulously honest in reporting their doings to the state.

Rising tide against trapping?

I have no statistics to back up this observation, but from tracking the online comments and letters to editors on this subject it seems clear that the trapping aspects of these seasons continue to stir up strong reactions among Minnesotans who might have been OK with a hunting-only approach, and often say as much.

Trapping (and baiting, by both hunters and trappers) have always been part of DNR’s planning for sport seasons on wolves. But they didn’t have a very high profile in the department’s communications, or in mainstream press coverage,  until the last couple of months.

To a wildlife manager, a take is a take – whether the wolf is taken with a rifle, a steel-jawed trap or a snare. But to plenty of nonhunting citizens – and apparently to a significant number of hunters as well – there is a night-and-day difference between hunting under fair-chase rules and the kind of killing accomplished with traps.

For a nuanced, close-up look at the latter I commend Dave Orrick’s piece for the Pioneer Press on Saturday, a father-and-toddler tale about a DNR conservation officer’s success in trapping, then shooting, “wolfie” with his not-quite-2-year-old in tow.

Orrick paints the CO, convincingly, as a disciplined, hardy, studious, conscientious trapper who is scrupulous about every aspect of setting and checking his traplines.

He explains, somewhat persuasively, that modern foot-hold traps are different from the jagged-jaw contraptions that persist in many modern minds – that in fact they can be identical to the traps used by researchers to detain wolves for radio-collaring.

He quotes the wolf expert David Mech as explaining that the animals don’t really chew off their feet to escape the trap:

“Most are very docile in the trap when you approach,” Mech said of younger wolves, which are the most likely to be caught, if for no other reason than they make up the majority of the population at any given time. … “They cower when you get there. They’re afraid of you. … They’d be easy to shoot.”

You can read for yourself what Orrick’s readers thought of this account and the accompanying picture of trapper with trophy. They gave him an earful.

For my own part, I’ll just say this:

  • I’ve long been OK with some recreational hunting of wolves on a fair-chase basis, for reasons I’ve explained before, though I think baiting ought to be beneath us, and I don’t really understand the logic that bans it from deer hunting and allows it for wolves.
  • I think trapping of wolves to stop livestock losses is a regrettable but necessary step that farmers and ranchers ought to be able to take to protect their livelihoods – and that those of us who eat the meat should swallow any objections along with the meal.
  • Realistically, the only alternative to these measures is a return to the bad old days of  “shoot, shovel and shut up,” and nobody can want that.

I’ve been a lot more dubious about trapping, but I admired Dave Orrick’s story and also its assumed purpose – to paint a detailed, humanized portrait of a modern practitioner as a way of informing our ongoing public debate of these issues.

And I certainly bear no ill will toward Orrick’s trapper. But as I watched him approach this animal, silhouetted against the snow, anchored to the ground by a steel vise, and put a bullet in its head, I thought I just might throw up.

While I’m at it, I also want to commend the Strib’s November editorial for a cogent statement of  all the reasons why Minnesota’s rules on wolf trapping and hunting deserve rethinking before next year’s seasons.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Greg Price on 12/18/2012 - 09:28 am.

    wolf numbers

    Gotta agree with you Ron…

    I am from WY and when the feds dumped the wolves into yellowstone expecting them to stay within the park boundaries (another issue entirely…game management with federal mandates)…there were definite effects on both the elk & deer population. Notwithstanding the more than a few of rancher’s calves being taken as well.

    That being said…trapping is the most effective way to control nuisance predators. Look at coyotes & foxes vs the duck & geese populations.

    I think the problem is that there are a lot more wolves out there than have been reported in Northern MN. The people I talk to up there say that the wolves are way up and the deer are way down. You can’t tell me that a wolf pack will pass on a baby moose fawn just because it is an “endangered” species in MN either.

    I believe that the way to go would be to cull the wolf population even more to a manageable level and let both the wolf & deer population build back together in more of a balance.

    It will probably take some dogs & cats being taken out of the suburbs by wolves before the tree huggers in “Twin City Hall” will look at the real situation. Talk to the people who live and work up north…then the true story emerges. if nothing else the DNR is being conservative to a fault.

    Another issue is putting a non-hunter in management status over the MN deer herd? Really?
    That was a real brain trust decision there.

    Thank you for your column on this issue…I have hunted in MN for some years and thus feel entitled to comment.


    • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 04/16/2013 - 04:54 pm.

      wolf numbers

      People are the nuisance predators where wolves are concerned. There are breeds of dogs that will protect cattle. I have heard a couple of donkeys are also great at keeping wolves away. I am sure Mr. Price at the geese and ducks he shot, sure hope so. We are above killing things for “sport” or “fun” aren’t we?

  2. Submitted by mark wallek on 12/18/2012 - 09:47 am.

    Nothing wrong with trapping

    Since we do have hunting, trapping needs to be allowed. What is actually not “humane” in this whole process is our failure to manage our own reproductive excesses and it’s impact on the natural environment.

    • Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 12/18/2012 - 10:41 am.

      Nothing wrong?

      Oh how I’d like to see you spend a night (or two) out in the woods in the winter with your leg caught in a trap and no way to free yourself. Then I’d ask you if you still found “nothing wrong with trapping.”

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 12/18/2012 - 07:51 pm.

      Shall we test it?

      There’s nothing wrong with trapping? Are you a dog owner? Will you volunteer your dogs to spend 24 hours in a leg hold trap to prove there’s nothing wrong with it?

  3. Submitted by Greg Price on 12/18/2012 - 02:14 pm.

    Trapping is a solution to a complex problem…

    Trappers check their lines daily…there is no torture or anything like that as you are implying…. These are animals…not sentient human beings…don’t put lesser developed species in a human context situation. Same thing as if fish feel the hook?

    Trapping is a reasonable way to limit animal populations. How would you like to spend a few nights and days in the woods with no food due to overpopulation and not enough food?

    Have you ever seen deer yarded up and starving from lack of food? Due to heavy snow cover or long periods of bad weather?

    there is a cost in every situation…like it or not…the piper must be paid…

    • Submitted by Sandra Skinaway on 12/18/2012 - 07:27 pm.


      That is why it’s called nature. Wildlife have always had it hard living in the wild, it’s even harder when humans come into the scene and want to kill them left and right. Who are you to determine if wildlife needs be be managed? They have always managed themselves before the human animals came and believe they need to manage wildlife.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 12/18/2012 - 07:37 pm.


      “These are animals…not sentient human beings…don’t put lesser developed species in a human context situation.”

      That attitude lies at the base of human abuse of animals and the natural world in general. Let’s examine “sentience”, shall we? Here are some formal definitions:

      “Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences.”

      “responsive to or conscious of sense impressions . 2. : aware. 3. : finely sensitive in perception or feeling”

      “having the power of perception by the senses; conscious. 2. characterized by sensation and consciousness. noun. 3. a person or thing that is sentient. ”

      Wolves are sentient. All animals are sentient. It is human hubris to think that we are somehow “above” them, that we’re apart from nature and “special”. We’re not, we just happen to be the animals on this planet that have the combination of big brains and opposable thumbs that allow us to invent technology, including guns and traps, and so dominate the rest of nature.

      I suppose telling yourself that other animals are not sentient allows you to feel good about inflicting pain, suffering and death. We do, after all, tell ourselves many lies to feel better about things.

      But that doesn’t make it true. At least have the cojones to own what you do. Go ahead and be a killer, but at least be honest about it. They think, they feel, they suffer. You can’t hide from it.

    • Submitted by thomas murphy on 12/24/2012 - 11:26 am.


      trappers are suppose to check their lines daily – the truth is the don’t and you know it. it’s torture for a four-legged animal to have any restrain on their legs, try holding your dogs legs still for any amount of time.. and this hunt is not about wolves – it’s about cattle – which are one of the biggest polluters in the country. This is about the grazing bill that our governor and senators passed at the same time- go figure, ranchers – deer hunters, and atv groups are responsible for this slaughter and i for one am going to fight and spread the word of this atrocity as far and wide.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 12/18/2012 - 02:32 pm.

    My problem here? It’s with “recreational killing” and the non-sporting nature of trapping animals.

    Going up to a cowering, shivering, silent young trapped animal and shooting it in the head, instead of letting it go? Cowering is only done by sentient beings, and this wolf was afraid of the human.

    Makes me want to throw up.

  5. Submitted by Sandra Skinaway on 12/18/2012 - 07:41 pm.

    Trapping is a solution to a complex problem

    Do you even know what “sentient” means? It means, endowed with feeling and unstructured consciousness. The young wolf that was trapped by a barbaric torture tool was “cowering” before a trapper came and put a bullet in it’s head. You don’t think this wolf had any feelings of “fear, or panic? Why was the wolf cowering then? Because that’s how they are? Dogs and Wolves are related. If trapped, a dog would react the same way.

    Also, it’s pretty sad when some humans lack empathy and sympathy towards other sentient beings which includes all animals.

  6. Submitted by Lance Groth on 12/18/2012 - 07:47 pm.


    I disagree with two of your statements, Ron.

    As to shoot, shovel, and shut-up, you suggest that without trapping, we would “return” to it. Who says it ever went away? It has gone on all along, and it will still go on with or without legally sanctioned killing. Just talk to folks who live in wolf country. When they’re being honest, they’ll tell you all about it (as long as no CO is in earshot). That’s the problem with tallying the legal kill count and concluding it’s acceptably low. No one, especially not DNR, has any idea how many are killed illegally. It’s probably in the hundreds, so you need to add that in.

    As to the necessity of trapping to protect livestock, I don’t accept that that’s necessary until it’s proven that nonlethal methods aren’t effective. The problem is, the DNR has never tested any nonlethal methods. When you exclude an entire dimension of possible solutions to the problem, it’s certainly easy to conclude that the only solution is to kill, but it’s lazy, and it isn’t honest. Why haven’t some of the European dog breeds that were bred to protect herds from wolves ever been tested? Wolves are going to go for the easy meat. If they have to fight to the death with dogs big enough, and with the instinct, to take them down, livestock isn’t going to look attractive.

    But what the hell. It’s cheaper and easier to trap them, inflicting physical and emotional torment, before finally killing them, than to try a humane approach. It’s how we treat all of nature – brutal and cheap beats refined and gentle every time.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/18/2012 - 10:42 pm.

    How do we know trappers check their lines daily?

    I see nothing admirable about walking up to a trapped animal and shooting it. These are not problem animals, this is not self defense, and we are not facing any kind of wolf crises in MN. We do not have to kill a minimum of 400 wolves for management of any kind, that’s a maximum limit. Of course we can kill a lot of wolves, that’s how they almost became extinct. And how do we know trappers are checking their lines daily? Finally, Mammals fit every description of sentience, the are in FACT sentient beings.

  8. Submitted by Linda Rolf on 12/18/2012 - 11:36 pm.

    Trapping is Torture!

    Right now as you sit in your comfy chair wolves and other innocent animals are suffering in traps without food or water and totally exposed to the elements and other animals who will take advantage of their compromised position. When the trapper checks the trap he will shoot the animal in the head or even beat it to death. It is gruesome, gory and totally unnecessary! This was a sport or trophy hunt meaning it was a gift from the MN DNR to their stakeholders (trappers, ranchers and hunters). The DNR has abused it’s position and really shown it’s true colors during the Wolf Hunt. There are lot’s more animal watchers and environmentalists in this state than trappers or hunters. We will not let our native wildlife and ecosystems be destroyed by politicians and agencies that are corrupt and out of touch. Wolves belong to all of us and they are not going to be a “cash crop” for the DNR!

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 12/19/2012 - 07:06 pm.

      Agreed, but…

      …there is only one way anything is going to change. Concerned people need to talk to their representative and senator, in the newly DFL majority legislature, about sponsoring some bills to change the law. DNR needs to have its feet held to the fire, with regard to conducting pilot studies of nonlethal methods of protecting farm animals, with regard to baiting and trapping, and with regard to considering its only “stakeholders” to be hunters, fishermen and ranchers. I’m not in any of those groups, but I pay my taxes, and they had better damn well consider me a stakeholder. It might be possible to raise some hell about the latter by writing letters to the Governor and the Commissioner.

    • Submitted by thomas murphy on 12/24/2012 - 11:47 am.


      Very good Linda, I agree with every word and I support no hunting of wolves in MN – the non-lethal methods are effective and should be introduced and used.. deer hunters can go elsewhere to hunt deer, Northern MN should belong to the wildlife.

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