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An Outdoorsman’s Journal – 11-5-2014

by Mark Walters

Last Minute Wolf

Hello friends,

The following is a story on determination, exhaustion, frustration and in the end success.

Monday, October 20th
High 59, low 30

Jody Bigalke and I go back to the early 80’s when we were both steel fabricators, Bigalke at Walker Stainless and myself at Bar Bel Fabricating! We lived together for a while and were part of a group of about 25 people from New Lisbon that worked hard and played hard.

I called Bigalke before I made it from the mailbox to my house when I received my wolf tag and we would both scout and run sets together every step of the way.

Both of us are in our early 50’s and running a trapline that in the end covered 120-miles of driving and 9-miles of walking for 6 days beat the heck out of us.

Yesterday afternoon we made four sets on a 400-acre property near Mauston where the landowner has been having daily problems with two wolves. There was sign every where and Jody and I were hopeful that we would have two nights before the season closed to catch a wolf in sets that now touched into Juneau, Wood and Monroe Counties and a bit into Jackson.

Last night, after a tough day five of checking empty traps, my computer told me that Zone 5 would be closing at 6:30 p.m the following day. In other words, today was our last day to catch a wolf.

First we headed north to check and in the end pull four traps, no wolf in the traps but one of my worst nightmares came true, when we saw a huge wolf that would have been an easy shot had I been carrying my 30:06. It was about 120-yards away and when I howled at it, what I believe was a male, stopped and gave me a broadside shot. I was only carrying a 22 rifle and there was no way I was shooting at that range with that light a caliber of a gun.

Our next bet was to head south to the Mauston area where we had made the four sets the night before. Set number five for the day had fox tracks but was left unsprung. Set two had a skunk, which in the end really stunk up the inside of both the cab of my pickup as well as the topper.

What really took the wind out of our sail was that at both sets 7 and 8, which we were pulling as we came to them a large wolf had made clear prints within inches of each trap.

So now it is close to noon, my truck really smells like skunk, we have to head north 40 miles to check and pull our last 7 sets and will walk several miles by dark.

I was using MB 650 foothold traps, which have a gap between the jaws so that the trap holds the foot but does not crush it. Number 9 was on state land in Monroe County and sprung by a bear. Set 10 unsprung! With a 15 mile drive to Set 11 and some serious hikes coming up I had a premonition that I shared with my buddy “Big Elk” I thought that we were gonna have a wolf in one of our last five sets.

Set 11 was empty. Our longest hike is one mile each way and a natural funnel where I have always dreamed of catching a wolf.

As we are pulling my truck into the parking lot to make the hike, I received a text from my neighbor that my pigs were out and in her yard, which was 25 miles away.

We had to check and pull the traps and so now outside stress invaded our experience (she is a good neighbor, just a bummer experience at the time).

Jody and I are making the hike and down to the last 30-yards when I saw something, which will be always be one of the most incredible memories of my life. It was a wolf and it was in set number 12. Big Elk and I were about as happy as a couple of good buddies could be.

We had pushed ourselves to the physical limit. Each day we worked harder, walking, thinking and knowing that if we did not catch our quarry we had given it our best shot.

I had forgotten my wallet in my truck, so Big Elk stayed with the wolf that was now in heaven and I hiked back howling up a storm on a marsh that I have lived on in my own kind of way for 40 some years.

I refused to put the beautiful animal in a pack or bag and carried it over my shoulder all the way back to the truck (that was work).

Believe in the biology, respect the quarry!  We did it, Sunset