MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Just one day after a Department of Natural Resources annual survey revealed a big surge in the state’s wolf population, a Keewatin hunter came face to face with the startling proof.
Justin Bailey and two young boys were hunting grouse in Minnesota’s arrowhead, near Isabela, when his dog ran square into a wolf pack.
“I grabbed the boys and threw them back and watched the wolf to see what it was going to do,” Bailey said.
Bailey is a professional hunting and fishing guide and says he’s seen grey wolves many times in the past. However, never as close as Tuesday’s encounter.
“I do fully-outfitted trips in the winter and in the summer. And then hunting, a lot of bird hunting,” Bailey said.
That’s what he was doing with his son and nephew Tuesday morning, driving remote U.S. Forest Service roads south of Ely looking for grouse. Suddenly, without warning, his familiar north woods sprung a scary surprise.
After spotting a grouse near the edge of the road, Bailey let his dog out of the truck to point the bird’s location in the woods.
His year-old German Wirehair named Henry ran about thirty feet into the forest. That’s when Bailey and the boys heard a yelp like never before.
“I’ve never heard a dog make that sound. I didn’t know what was wrong, did he step in a trap or what, didn’t know what happened. Then he came flying back at us,” Bailey said.
A large timber wolf, approximately twice Henry’s size, was nipping at the dog’s haunches. Henry didn’t waste a second as he jumped through the open window for the safety of the truck.
“That wolf stopped at the truck and went around the back side and then came back. I walked towards it and fired a shot in the air and yelled at it. I told it to get out of there,” Bailey said.
Seemingly undeterred, the wolf circled and rejoined its pack. First two, three and then a total of six.
“It was really after my dog, really wanted my dog,” Bailey said.
As suddenly as the animals appeared the pack slipped back into the dense spruce forest — apparently, no match to the speed of Henry.
“There are a lot more wolves out there than people think,” Bailey said.
Frightening and disarming at the same time, but it makes for a north woods experience that will entertain kids and clients for years to come.
Bailey said it’ll take some time for Henry to regain his excitement for the woods. Later in the afternoon they continued hunting grouse after the experience, but Henry wouldn’t leave the safety of the truck.
Experts say the 25 percent rise in the estimated wolf population is due to a similar jump in the whitetail deer numbers, their favorite prey.
Bear in mind that the estimated 2,856 wolf population is just slightly below the peak number of wolves counted between 2004 and 2008.