The Tragic End of a Great Hound
By Dave Samuel (Field Editor)
Bear Hunting Magazine May/June 2007
You never know when it will happen. It all started on August 28th about 5:00 p.m. Leroy Butterfield and I had our dogs loaded, were checking baits and looking for a strike from our rig dogs. A bait we call “The Corner Bait” was hit so we dumped some dogs to see how it would go.
Willow was one of the first ones out of the box. She was a four year-old registered redbone that had it all together. In the four years I had her she never left a bear track unless I caught her off it, and then it was with much displeasure on her part. She had already made over 45 trees this summer in less than two months.
I also let Satan, a year-old male, and my Reb dog out right after Willow left the truck. Leroy put in his dogs Sassy, Hannah and Boomer. The race was on! There was plenty of bear scent and they took off like they were on fire. They headed straight north so fast we could hardly keep up with them in the trucks. Every time we stopped to listen they were already ahead of us and going out of hearing. They were turned loose in a piece of property that is about six miles long and three miles wide on the south side and a mile wide on the north end; a lot of running room for the bear and the dogs with no roads to access into the area. Just the kind of area the DNR like us to hunt in order to stay away from landowner conflicts.
In no time whatsoever they were to the north end and took a sharp turn to the east, headed into the next piece of property. Leroy saw the bear crossing the road and we headed east on the road to try to stay with them and to hear the race.
The dogs went east as hard as they could go and covered the three miles across that piece in no time flat. Then the bear changed his tactics. He decided he had run enough and was going to stand his ground. Leroy and I arrived about the same time and debated how to handle the situation. We were having fun and everything was going great, a good race and the dogs were all performing extremely well.
From the sounds of things they were holding the bear at bay in a popple thicket that was about eight feet tall. There was a stub road into an old landing just south of where the bear was bayed up by the dogs. I volunteered to drive in so I could get closer to the bear, either on foot or with the truck. We figured once we got close the bear would break out towards Leroy and he could catch or pack, depending on what the bear was doing. We did not want to be on a fighting bear this close to our harvest season and figured if he came out fighting the dogs, Leroy would have a chance to catch some or all of the dogs, and if he came out running, we could replace and add fresh dogs.
The plan worked and he came out on a dead run right to Leroy and then crossed the road again. We had caught a couple of the dogs and Leroy added two more young dogs, Zeke and Lou. Away the race went straight east into some really big country. It is nine miles through with only a couple of stub roads to work off. We were not concerned because it was still early in the day and we had hunted this property without encountering any problems more times than we could count.
At the point Lou and Zeke were pitched in on the bear, Willow was just a little behind them. She would not stay there long because she could not stand to run second and would be racing for the lead, and if not in the lead, would be pushing the lead dog hard no matter how many miles she had on her. She was one of the toughest dogs with more stamina than any I have ever owned.
Leroy and I headed a mile south to the next, and only, east bound road in the area. The south section is nine miles by 16 miles of roadless terrain. Good country to run dogs to build up their stamina.
We had gone about two miles on the east bound road when Leroy, who was ahead of me, heard the dogs and stopped. I was coming up right behind him as he pulled out in order to try and stay ahead of them. I pulled in where he had just exited and took a reading on Willow. I told Leroy they had turned and were heading north and that I would sit it out for awhile to see if they changed direction or continued on.
Leroy was tracking Zeke and Lou and I was tracking Willow. We knew we could depend on all three of them and knew the rest of the dogs would be with them. Once they went north, Leroy said he could hear his dogs coming east towards him and we just figured Willow was with them. They had stalled out for a few minutes on the run north and we did not realize at the time what had happened. You never can tell for sure what they are doing when you are in that size of country.
We both just figured the three lead dogs would all be together and the rest would be following. The plan was to stay ahead of the lead dogs and get them caught at the next crossing. It was getting late and it seemed the bear did not want to tree. I leaped ahead of Leroy and guessed it right. Out came the bear across the road, still in high gear.
Within a minute Zeke and Lou came out on the track and we caught them. I tried a reading on Willow and it was extremely weak which did not make sense. Never before had she not been with the lead dogs. I started driving with my non-directional antenna on the box trying to work my way closer to her.
The speed on the collar was not changing and I was already concerned. The speed of the beeping should alternate when a dog in running if you are using a tree switch in the collar. Hers was on a single speed and not changing. In our country, with the rough glacier ridges, hills and gullies, there should always be changes in the speed of the beeps, indicating they are going up or down hills.
Leroy and I split to start locating the dogs that had not shown. I finally got a decent reading on Willow’s collar from the north road and had an idea where she was.
My original thought was the got her and she was laying in the woods injured. She would stick with any bear she was on even if it got rough. She was not a stupid dog that would get herself all cut up, but she would always be barking and swarming the bear like a mad hornet. Very seldom could a bear get a claw or tooth mark on her but she would definitely harass them hard and steady.
Leroy, in the meantime, was getting close to the other dogs and found where they had originally crossed a stub road as they headed north when I had stopped to track them. He was able to catch a couple of the dogs but Satan was spooked and acting strange and would not let Leroy catch him. In fact, they were all acting funny and we still did not know what had happened. He heard a dog bark but could not identify it and I pulled in by him and put my tracker on it. It was Satan and he was close. I called and he finally came out and was acting like his brains were scrambled. He was scared of me and not really knowing what direction to go. I finally caught him and got him settled down before loading him in the box. He seemed to settle down more once in the familiar dog box. We finally had all the dogs but Willow.
We drove a little further north and got as close as we could. Her signal had not changed one bit and I knew she was in a serious situation. It was now getting close to 8:00 p.m. and darkness was closing in. Leroy and I got out of the trucks to discuss the best way to walk into her and then some wolves started howling and we immediately knew what had happened. It was already too late and I knew it. Wolves had killed my friend and hunting companion.
Leroy and I put on our coon hunting lights and went to try and find her, just in case she was still alive. The wolves were howling close all around as we tried to navigate the hills and steep valleys to locate the dog. Unfortunately, the signal was bouncing so bad there was no way to find her in the dark. I had forgot to mention that a friend of ours, Marc, was riding along in my truck that day also. He called on the two-way radios and asked if we were okay. He also mentioned the wolves were all around the trucks and howling. We figured they knew the rest of the dogs were in the trucks and had come after them. Marc said they were close and he was not leaving the truck even though he was concerned about our welfare. We felt safe at the moment but we also had three or more wolves howling around us too.
We did not recover Willow that night but went back in at 6 a.m. as soon as it was light. I knew what we were headed into and was trying to toughen up to what it was going to be like. We eventually located what was left of her. It was one of the most sickening feelings I have ever dealt with. I broke down in tears when we located Willow’s remains. The wolves had killed and eaten most of her.
We think we pieced together what happened after the dogs headed north out of our hearing. We think the bear bayed up again in the thicket where we found Willow’s remains. Once they had momentarily stopped, the wolves were able to attack and get a hold of her. While the wolves were occupied with killing her, the bear and other dogs quickly moved out of the area. The younger dogs got scared and came back to the crossing on their backtrack and did not know what to do or how to react. Possibly the wolves had made some attempts at catching them also and they had gotten lucky.
Once we had caught the dogs and put them in the trucks we drove about a half mile north on the skidder trail. We parked there and started walking to find Willow while Marc was in the truck to direct us out with the sound of the horn or come to pick up us up on another road if we came out too far from the trucks.
Some of the wolf pack were on the track of the dogs that had come out to the trucks and then followed the scent of the dogs to where we parked. They started to howl as they circled the trucks with Marc and the dogs safely inside. Others from the pack had circled around Leroy and me as we made our way through the night trying to locate Willow.
Unfortunately, I took a hard loss that night, not only by losing a friend but also financially. I had turned down numerous offers over $6,000 for Willow. The Wisconsin DNR has set a cap on depredation payments on hunting dogs at $2,500 and that is all they were willing to pay me for her loss.
Wisconsin hunters are lucky that the state has a statute stating they will pay for damages to livestock and hunting dogs by wolves. The DNR enacted a policy, not a law, called an Administrative Rule, because they were paying a lot of money for the wolves killing so many dogs that they wanted to cap their exposure on them.
I elected to refuse the check and take the state to court for fair reimbursement for my dog. To the best of my knowledge no one has ever challenged the Administrative Rule. We believe it is unconstitutional for the DNR to arbitrarily set a price cap on dogs when the state statue, which should be the guiding rule, does not do that.
We are filed in District Court and are awaiting a trial date. I know this will cost me more in attorney fees than what I will get reimbursed for the dog. This is not a money issue but I felt it is time to stand up and say enough is enough.
For years there has been talk of delisting the wolves and what the DNR will propose at that time. It may even be done by the time this article is printed. It has been very clear the entire time that they intend to discontinue depredation payments on dogs. My goal is simply to try and put more pressure on the DNR to start addressing the growing problem with wolves killing valuable dogs and hunting companions. If they said they would go in and eliminate the packs that were killing the dogs I would drop the suit immediately and forgo any payments. I believe we, as hunters, have the right to not only protect our property but also hold accountable those who have allowed the wolf problem to get out of hand for their actions.
Will I win my suit? I am not sure. Will we make them take notice? Yes, absolutely! Will it bring Willow back? No. Will it cause the DNR to discontinue all payments? Absolutely not; they already have that in the works.
I can tell each and every dog owner that once you personally experience the loss of your dog this way, it will change your attitude about the safety of your dog when you are hunting. It took me a few weeks before I was really able to turn my dogs out again without being so on edge. It was no longer fun for me to listen to them run. I am still edgy and on the lookout all the time for problems with wolves. The minute the dogs quit barking, my mind jumps to the worst case scenario.
One of the excuses I have always heard from wolf lovers is we, as hound hunters, have to face the dangers of a bear killing our dogs or a vehicle running them over and the wolves are just part of the danger we must face. I can assure you it is different. We can control where we run our dogs and we can choose to run by roads and take the gamble. It is our choice. In regards to bears killing dogs, that is a fallacy that so many people seem to believe happens. I have never had a bear kill one of my dogs. I hunt as hard as anyone I know and put as many hours on my dogs in the woods as other hunters. I believe my dogs are equal to most average packs out there, no better and no worse. I have my share of vet bills when the dogs get stupid. But never has a bear killed one of my dogs. Maybe on a rare occasion a dog is killed by bear, but nothing like the percentage we are dealing with on wolf depredations.
We can also choose to hunt an area away from mean bears. We as houndsmen know where the mean bears are found and can stay away from them, if we so choose. I know which baits the mean bears hang on and can elect to stay away from that area and hunt other bear that like to run and tree. I know when I rig a certain spot that a rough bear crosses consistently that I can stay clear of him if I am concerned.
With wolves we no longer have a safe haven to go to in order to evade them. Nowhere in the state is it safe to hunt without being in jeopardy of having our dogs killed by wolves.
For the non-hound hunter, please do not kid yourself that it is only the bear hunters that are having problems. Recently wolves came into a yard in the Hayward, Wisconsin area and grabbed a poodle while the mother of a small child was in the yard trying to get the child picked up and out of harm’s way. This was right in the yard next to the house. This was not a wolf protecting its young, it was plain and simple killing a dog to eat it.
I have the Alaskan study that specifically points out that wolves have attacked six children in Alaska while they had their dogs with them, during this study period. They did not attack the dogs but attacked the children. Most of us have heard about the Canadian examples where, in the last couple of years, wolves attacked, killed an ate at least one person.
Outdoor Life recently ran an article about wolf depredation in Idaho telling the story of a hunter having a life and death struggle with wolves while trying to save his dogs from being killed. They also highlighted the fact that a wolf recently attacked three people and bit them severely while at a picnic in an Ontario Park.
In northwestern Wisconsin wolves recently came in and snatched a beagle from a hunt while the hunters were there with the dogs. They were able to scare the wolf into dropping the dog but were unable to save its’ life.
How long before this happens to you or someone you know? How many dogs are missing from homes that cannot be accounted for? In the Idaho article they calculated 200 to 300 dogs were missing from the area once research was started. Notice we did not hear about that in the news.
I still believe there should be wolves allowed to roam. I also believe that those packs that depredate, whether it be cattle, horses, goats, chickens, dogs or attack people, should be totally eliminated.
Do you think one of the wolf advocates are going to stand up and say they are sorry for not doing something sooner in Wisconsin or your state when the first child is killed by wolves?
Please bear in mind that the verbiage has changed from the wolf advocates. When they first discussed damage by wolves there were no proven attacks by wolves on humans. Then they restructured their statements to say in the lower 48 States or Canada. Now they say in Wisconsin. How long before they have to redo that statement?
For those of you who do not hunt with hounds but own beagles, labs or other dogs, how will you really feel when the wolf comes knocking at your door and leaves nothing but a pile of bones as a calling card? It is time to get involved and support the organizations that are trying to get this predator in control.