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When Wolves Impact Your Deer Herd

With Wolves at the Doors, Stick to your Guns. A Well Thought Out Plan Will Pay Off Despite Setbacks.

Todd Amenrud | Originally published in GameKeepers: Farming for Wildlife Magazine. To subscribe, click here.

Todd Amenrud Ontario buck

You have no idea how literal the title of this article is to my brother-in-law Mike Berggren and I. We purchased our Ontario property five years ago and have had numerous obstacles to overcome along our path. We set forth a plan and stuck to the strategy despite pressures that would have folded many. One of the biggest and most recent problems was literally wolves. Our saga is proof positive that persistence and positive attitude eventually perseveres and that the principals laid forth by the Quality Deer Management Association work…period.

We saw exceptional potential in the 500-acre property located just north of the Minnesota border, but it was nothing to brag about when we first purchased it. Since then there has been a lot of time, money and planning that have gone into our “work in progress” and there have been a lot of ups and downs along the way. From problems like beavers, flooding, equipment failures, bears and wolves, offset by moments of serenity, elation and incredible success.

With the exception of possibly a cougar, no other
predator has a bigger impact on whitetail behavior
than wolves (humans excluded). It was believed
that the pack contained 10 to 15 members,
although the most the author ever captured in a
picture was three.

Each time things looked bad and we felt like just giving up, I told Mike that we had a good plan; we just needed to stick with it, diligence will pay. However, in the back of my mind, I sometimes doubted if I was correct.

During the hunting season of 2011, I wondered if we hadn’t met our match. In September and October, we were collecting trail camera photos of more deer than ever, there were more shooter bucks than ever and everything looked to be falling into place. Then, in the course of two days, everything changed! If we aren’t hunting, we often glass our largest twelve-acre food plot, and overnight without putting any hunting pressure on the property yet whatsoever, we went from glassing 20 to 25 deer in that plot per afternoon…to none! At first, we didn’t understand what had happened until we collected our trail camera data. Wolves!

When a conservative talks about wolves, we’re often ignored or told that with our slow, hick brains we couldn’t possibly understand the complexity of the wolf situation. To that, I say politely, “bull splat.” We documented everything very carefully because at first we didn’t understand the situation fully and we wanted to know what had just happened to our priceless hunting. So we kept records and our cameras were running non-stop. To those who don’t believe that wolves have a HUGE impact on the local animals, I say back to you, “On the contrary, it is YOU who doesn’t have a clue.”

It was truly amazing the horrific influence the wolves had on the deer herd. Mike and I, on average, see about six animals per hunt – that’s sometimes seeing as many as 25 (or more), averaged with sometimes seeing none. Because of the amount of acreage that we devote to sanctuary, the seclusion of the area and the minimal pressure it receives, we usually have just as much movement from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm as any other time of the day. Mike and I sat for three days straight from a half hour before sunup to a half hour after sundown without seeing a deer! We went for five days straight with only seeing three, a doe and single fawn and a separate button buck. On camera, we were able to tell that some of the bucks were still there, but they never showed up during daylight. Neither of us harvested a buck off of the property during 2011. 

As rare as wolf sightings are, we had five close encounters over just two weeks, and these wolves were brazen! During one encounter (where we didn’t have a gun), they wouldn’t leave! It seemed to be a large, single wolf, and it would keep about 40 yards between us whether we moved towards it or away. I have never even heard of behavior like this, but I have heard “it’s the one that you don’t see that you have to worry about,” and this made me very nervous. To just see a wolf used to be a very big deal for us in this area…now they won’t leave!

Todd Amenrud sheds
After the wolf invasion during the fall of 2011, things started
to look up as early as the spring of 2012. A few
recognizable sheds were found and a month later trail
cameras revealed a number of bucks had made it through
the wolf crusade. 

Our deer would only move during night and not very far at all – to the closest possible food source and back to bed, that’s it. Before the wolves arrived, we had a number of bucks that we would see at all of our camera sites. It’s impossible to tell with the does unless they have distinguishable markings, but after the wolves arrived the bucks would almost always be seen only at one camera site and all movement was after sundown and before sunup.

We had seen wolves before, and we had wolf sign when we first looked at the property and considered buying it, but this time was different. In fact, at the time we were considering purchasing the property we thought having some wolf sign was great – to have a property “wild enough” to have wolves was just what we were looking for. Wolves would travel through from time to time and you could hear howling at night, but now they seemed to have taken up residence. It went through our minds that maybe we had made it too good for the whitetails, and in doing so, made it easy for the wolves.

I must qualify my next statement as just hearsay, but our neighbor told us that another neighbor about four miles away lost 32 calves during the following few weeks - and from several other neighbor’s hearsay, I believe that to be true. We were told the calf massacre got the government’s attention and that’s why we didn’t see hide nor hair of any wolves this year. Everyone believed that the MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) “took care” of the problem.

On one outing Mike had a VERY close encounter with a beautiful white wolf. The wolf came running down the logging road towards his ground blind. Mike said, “I didn’t know what it was at first. I thought someone’s husky dog was loose on our property. I came to full draw when I realized it was a wolf, but the animal wouldn’t stop, not even for a second. I guess he was scanning the area with his nose for the scent of the doe and fawn that had been there just minutes before.” Mike sailed an arrow about an inch over the white wolf’s back but missed. The wolf didn’t know what had happened and sat about 60 yards from Mike and began howling.

I was in a blind about 400 yards from Mike, and the wind was blowing directly at me so the howling sounded very close. I called Mike and said, “Wow, that howling must be right by you.” Mike told me of the story and said, “He’s only 60 yards away!” I asked him if he wanted to leave, but at the time I think he was hoping for another shot. After listening to that sound and sitting in a feeble blind, we fabricated from materials found at the site, then looking at his arsenal of a six-inch knife and an arrow, it didn’t take long for him to change his mind. He called me back about three minutes later and said, “Come pick me up!” 

bucks and fawns
As summer passed things actually began to look
better than ever. It just goes to show that QDM
principles work and a sound plan will almost
always prevail. 

At that time Mike and I couldn’t believe that wolves would have as big of an impact as they did. We were looking for other answers – could it be lack of water, are neighbors sneaking on at night…we started to become paranoid because we couldn’t explain the serious drop-off of sightings. It seemed one day we had deer and the next day they were gone. The whole time I kept telling Mike to “hang in there. Our plan is sound; we just need to stick to our guns.”

I’m not sure if what we were told is true and the MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) put a hurt on the wolves that were killing the calves, but this year we never had one trail camera photo of a wolf. In fact, we never saw a track.

Things actually looked very good as early as last spring. When we arrived at the property to plant spring food plots we found some nice sheds. Then a little later we began seeing photos of bucks that we recognized from years past. Things were looking up. I breathed a sigh of relief when we recognized those bucks on camera. QDM principles work! I will never need further proof of that, but I’m sure I will always pursue it.

Our fifth year hunting the property was by far the best! Although I have to admit I had my doubts at times, but my reassuring advice to Mike to “stick to our guns” was true. We have a healthier herd than ever and we killed the two biggest bucks that we had on camera this past 2012 hunting season.

We named my buck "Big Boy" because when we first identified him three years ago, he was our biggest buck. At that point, he was a 5x5 that we estimated would have just squeaked into B&C. Last year he was also a 5x5 but not quite as big. This past year he was a 4x4, but still a heck of a buck. We believe he is seven years old. 

Mike's buck we named “Shaquille” because when we viewed our first photos of him two years ago, I commented that you could dunk a basketball through his rack. We believe “Shaq” is a five-year-old and will score in the mid-160s. Both bucks had huge bodies and were model, healthy whitetails. Mike’s buck was so chubby, it had fat “chipmunk cheeks.” I always tell people you need to stick to a plan and give a spot at least three years to really see what its potential is. Normally from that point on, if you continue to practice QDM principles it will only continue to get better. I have to admit, this was a test of my fundamental beliefs. But if you implement a sound plan, despite setbacks or huge hindrances like a wolf invasion, if you hold true to QDM beliefs, results will follow. 

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