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The Wisconsin Wolf Hunt of 2021

Wolf Pup Caught on Camera During Night Fat Bike Guided TourWolf Pup

Wolves and the Night Fatbike Guided Tourand Others, Night Fat Bike Guided Tour, Cable, WI, mid-September 2016, Full Moon. Some places are still wild, we like that.

4/12/21. The Wisconsin Wolf Hunt of late-February 2021 was the fourth since the original de-listing of the Timber Wolf in 1999. The hunt was significant for many reasons: it was the first Gray Wolf hunt in the State during mating season; Wisconsin is the only State that allows the use of hounds during a wolf hunt; the stated statewide harvest limit was 119; and a total of 216 wolves were killed. It’s hard to understand what that really means without some historical context.

The Wisconsin DNR estimates between 5,000 and 8,000 wolves inhabited what became the State at the onset of the trapping and fur trade in the region. In 1865 the Wisconsin Legislature put a $5 bounty on each adult wolf head. By 1880 the wolf was absent from the lower 2/3rds of the State. The bounty was later raised to $20/adult and $10/pup until 1957, by 1960 the Gray Wolf was gone from Wisconsin. Only about 20 wolves remained in Isle Royal of MI, and approximatley 400 remained in Northern MN. In 1974 the Timber Wolf was listed as an endangered species, and shortly thereafter began migrating from Minnesota into Wisconsin. In other words, wolves were not reintroduced into the State, they walked.

By 1980 the DNR estimated that 25 wolves in 5 packs were in Wisconsin. That population encountered a virus setback and in 1985 was down to 14 individuals, but the population was resilient and by 1999 it reached 248 wolves! By the first Wisconsin wolf hunt of 2012, the population was up to 815 individuals, then down to 660 in 2014, up to 929 in 2017, and as a high water mark, 1,195 in April of 2020. 117 wolves were harvested during the 2012 hunt, 257 during the 2013 hunt, and 154 in 2014. The wolf was re-listed later in 2014 and then de-listed in October of 2020 when the approximate population in the lower 48 stood at 6,000. That sets the stage for the hunt of earlier this year in Wisconsin.

A Wisconsin permitted wolf hunt lasts for one week but can be concluded early with 24-hours notice to permittees. Over 1,000 permits were issued to cull 119. Add hounds to the mating season timing, and it amounts to a hunt of the alphas since they are the only ones who mate, they mark using urine and blood, and those are the scents the hounds pick up.

Doing some quick subtraction, it is highly likely that there are approximately 1,000 wolves currently in Wisconsin after the late-February 2021 hunt. We know wolves are resilient, but the effects of taking out a generation of alpha wolves and a year’s worth of pups will have to be observed going forward.

Cites: The Guardian Wisconsin, Victoria Bekiempis, 3/3/21; Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, Paul A. Smith, 10/29/20; and History of the Gray Wolf in Wisconsin, James Rasmussen, 5/9/17.

Up North Guided Tours provides fat bike, canoe, and snowshoe guided tours in the Cable Area of Northwest Wisconsin. We are a part of those who believe getting people into the backcountry helps to preserve the backcountry and its inhabitants. See for more. Thank you for reading! -Josh

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