CARLTON, MINN. — About 400 people, mostly men and mostly wrapped in camouflaged hats and coats, crammed into the upper level of the Four Seasons Sports Complex here on Wednesday night to learn more about a growing group bent on controlling Minnesota's wolf population.
The session, titled "Wolf Predation Meetings: Wolf Versus Deer: Who Will Win," was one of more than a handful listed on the Hunters for Hunters website. The informational meeting had the fever of a pep rally as the grassroots organization takes it upon itself to address what it believes to be an abundance of wolves in the North Woods and not enough whitetail deer.
Hunters for Hunters launched just prior to the deer season. Board Member Steve Porter, whose son is among the group's founders, issued a call for action in support of a legal wolf hunt in Minnesota. Grey wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.
"We're looking for a bunch of men who don't have reverse," Porter said during the 90-minute session, which included rants of distrust toward Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources and some elected officials, and brainstorming on how to affect political change around the issue.
The DNR has attributed low deer density to deep-snow winters that leave the animals vulnerable to predators, including wolves. The state agency also points to a loss of winter habitat because of sanctioned logging on state land. The DNR estimates that there are about 2,700 wolves in Minnesota — a population that has stayed about the same since the 1990s.
But the DNR wasn't given much credit here. When someone in the crowd asked how trustworthy the agency's wolf count is, the crowd laughed.
Thomas Gable, project lead for the Voyageurs Wolf Project, said Thursday that wildlife management needs the voices of people advocating for what they want — and he supports that even if he doesn't agree with their assessment of how wolves affect the deer populations.
"On a biological level, it's pretty darn clear that wolves are not the scapegoat they are being made out to be by some groups," he said.
In an opinion piece last week that ran in the Star Tribune, he said deer populations drive wolf populations — "not the other way around."
Anecdotally, there were stories of hours of inactivity in deer stands and packs of wolves caught on trail cameras.
What about when a wolf kills a child, asked Nick Potter of Rock Creek, Minn., although no specific instances of wolf attacks were mentioned.
The arena that hosted the meeting didn't have enough seating to accommodate the hunters, with a handful of local politicians also in attendance. One local old-timer offered up a recipe for poisoning wolves.
Porter quickly quashed that notion. "We can't endorse illegal behavior," he said.
Kelly Dusek has been watching and learning about deer for years. He described them as his livelihood. He made the trip to Carlton to learn what the next steps are regarding the wolf population.
"I'm not an advocate for abolishing wolves," he said. "We have to a have a hunting season that kills more wolves than are being born."
Gerry Pollard was thinking about his 60-year tradition of hunting on the same land near Floodwood, Minn. It's hard to get young people to sit in a deer stand for days with no action.
"I want them to enjoy what I've had," he said. "I've had good years. I've seen things."
But this year was yet another slow one for the eight hunters who gather at his shack.