With gray wolves returned to federal threatened status in the Great Lakes, hunting them with hounds, traps and guns is now illegal. Yet many threats against their continued recovery remain. In December 2014, after two wolves were illegally killed in Michigan, Wolf Patrol launched a reward program to help combat poaching which continues to be a serious threat to wolves, especially in Wisconsin where many hunters have bragged on social media about continuing to shoot “big coyotes.”
Identifying the continuing threats to gray wolves has led Wolf Patrol to the conclusion that in addition to poaching and recreational hunting, one of the greatest unidentified threats to wolves and other wildlife is Wisconsin’s liberal hound hunting season. Wisconsin DNR allows hound hunters to run their trained GPS-equipped hunting dogs across public lands nine months of the year. Hound hunters in Wisconsin can legally chase rabbits, raccoons, wild turkey, bobcat, bear and coyote. Last year, over 26 hunting hounds were killed by wolves while hunting and their owners are compensated to the tune of $2,500 which is drawn from the state’s Endangered Species Fund. Hound hunters are pushing for this to be increased to $5,000 per hound. This year, six hunting dogs have been killed by wolves, including three which were chasing coyotes.
In Wisconsin, hound hunters can hunt coyotes year-round and there is no bag limit, so there are no statistics on how many coyotes are killed by hound or other predator hunters. Hound hunting for coyotes in Wisconsin is primarily a winter activity, at its peak from January to March, which is also the breeding season for wolves and when the predators can aggressively protect breeding female wolves. According to hound hunters, often their dogs are allowed to tear at live coyotes, especially at the beginning of the season, or when training new dogs so that they might acquire the scent and taste of coyote blood. Without any regulation, the hound hunting of coyotes is not only inhumane and unethical, but also a threat to wolves and other wildlife which is constantly harassed on public lands by hound hunting.
On March 5th, Wolf Patrol launched its campaign for the end to hound hunting of coyotes by entering a popular hound hunting area in western Polk County, not far from where we encountered wolf hunters using hounds in December. We found three trucks of hound hunters actively on the trail of a coyote and witnessed as the hunters carried their shotgun into the field to kill the cornered coyote. The next day we encountered the same hound hunters, including a known wolf hound hunter. We spent two hours trailing the hound hunters, never approaching closer than fifty yards, except when the hunters approached us.
Although the hound hunting of coyotes takes place on public roads and lands, when we located the hound hunters the second day, one of the hunters yelled and gave us his middle finger. In their attempt to escape public scrutiny and documentation, the hound hunters drove in excess of 90mph down residential country roads and then chastised us for creating a “traffic hazard” by parking on the shoulder of the road.
While we did not document any kill, our presence in the hunting fields of Wisconsin is a reminder to hunters and poachers that Wolf Patrol will continue to document all threats to wolves and other wildlife. Wolf Patrol will continue to report any legal violations and also gather evidence of the inherent cruelty involved in coyote hound hunting so that we might provide documentation to organizations and individuals interested in ending this practice.