Girl shoots deer, wolves eat it

Published 9:06 am Thursday, November 22, 2012

FLOODWOOD — It took Jessica Saenger three days to shoot a deer.

It took a pack of wolves as little as 30 minutes to take it from her.

Stories of wolves taking hunter-killed deer aren’t uncommon, but they usually involve a deer shot late one afternoon and left overnight by a hunter unable to recover it until the next morning.

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What Saenger experienced is far rarer.

Saenger, 17, of East Bethel, was hunting private land near Floodwood in northern Minnesota on Nov. 10, the second weekend of the Minnesota gun deer season.

It was morning on her third day of the hunt when a doe walked to within 50 feet of her tree stand. She trained her rifle scope and fired what she felt was a good kill shot. The deer bolted off into the woods.

She waited about 45 minutes — time for the deer to bleed out in peace and proximity — and climbed down from her stand. That’s where it got interesting.

“I picked up the blood trail and all of a sudden, a wolf ran by,” Saenger said. “It wasn’t even 40 yards away. It scared the crap out of me.”

She phoned her father and other members of her hunting party, and the group fanned out to follow the trail. Her father saw one wolf and heard four distinct animals, as well as the deer yelping.

None of them had applied for wolf hunting tags — “never occurred to me,” Jessica Saenger said — and although anyone can shoot a wolf to protect the safety of people, livestock and pets, you can’t shoot a wolf solely for feasting on your deer.

Thirty minutes after getting onto the trail — 30 minutes after seeing the first wolf — the group came upon the deer. There were no wolves in sight, but not much deer either.

“All the meat that we could have had was gone,” said Saenger, who has been hunting since age 12. “I was happy because I felt I had taken a good shot and I think the deer went down from my shot, but then I was really mad that they had taken all the meat.”

Suspecting the wolves were close by, and unsure how they might react if the hunters started hauling off canis lupus’ cuisine, the hunters decided to leave their kill. “They got there first, there wasn’t much left and we didn’t know what they had done to the meat, so we just figured we’d leave whatever was left for them.”

Such a tale of wolves apparently unafraid of relatively close contact with people — and gunshots — could no doubt be used to support an argument that more need to be killed, that next year’s wolf hunt should offer up more than the 400-wolf quota offered this year.

Early data from the first season of Minnesota’s first regulated wolf hunt, in which hunters killed 147 wolves, suggests one of two things is going on: Either Minnesota hunters are better than wildlife officials predicted, or there were more wolves on the landscape than researchers estimated. Or both.

On Saturday, Minnesota enters its late season, one in which 800 trappers will add their skills to the ranks of 1,600 hunters. Given the expected effectiveness of trappers, many expect the 200-wolf late-season quota to be met before it closes Jan. 24, according to Dan Stark, who is overseeing the hunting season for the Department of Natural Resources. “We’ll get pretty close, for sure,” Stark said.

I asked Jessica Saenger for her take. Will she apply for a wolf tag next year?

“If they become a problem I would,” she said. “But (this) was just something that happened. Wolves need to eat too. Just not my deer!”