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Commentary: When wolves visit hunters, what does it mean?

It happens almost every time we set up our booth at events across the state. Once we put out the green tablecloth with our logo and the words "International Wolf Center" printed on it, a man in a camouflage hat steps up to talk.

He tells us a story of a remarkable moment.

There he was on deer opener, perched carefully atop his tree stand, rifle in hand. In the distance, he caught sight of something he didn't immediately recognize. Soon enough, he figured out a wolf was watching him. There the wolf sat, seemingly staring up at the hunter. The man didn't know what to think or what to do.

Finally, he decided to call a friend for backup. Together, they walked out of the woods and headed home.

As the number of wolves is reportedly increasing in Minnesota, according to the Department of Natural Resources there are now about 2,850 wolves in the state, encounters like this one are likely to become increasingly common.

Here's why: New studies show that wolves understand cause and effect much better than we'd thought. And they know it even better than domesticated dogs.

Some wolves have learned that when deer hunters are in the woods, the wolves may get a free meal. When a hunter harvests a deer, he or she needs to gut the deer before transporting it. What do hunters do with those gut piles? They leave them sitting right there in the woods.

The public is always cautioned against feeding any wild animal and, while hunters don't intend to feed wolves by leaving the gut piles behind, that's exactly what is happening. Obviously, some wolves have figured out that seeing a hunter (cause) may lead to finding a free meal (effect.)

Also, another reason why wolves may stare at a hunter in his or her stand is because, in many cases, the area immediately surrounding the hunter often smells like a deer. Many deer hunters spray the area around their deer stand with deer scent when they get in the woods. You'd better believe all of that scent could attract a wolf.

So, let's say you are in your tree stand this fall and a wolf keeps an eye on you from afar. What do you do?

First, there's no legitimate reason to be fearful of the wolf. In the state's history, very few instances of wolves attacking humans have been documented.

Here are some tips should a wolf pay you a visit in your stand:

• Do not entice the wolf in an effort to get closer to it.

• Don't approach a wolf.

• Leave room for the wolf to escape.

• If a wolf acts aggressively or approaches within close range of you, raise your arms and wave them in the air to make yourself look larger. Back away slowly. Make noise and throw objects at the wolf.

Wolves prefer to avoid humans and they should not be seen as a threat to hunters. They should, though, be treated with caution, as they are unpredictable, wild predators.

The International Wolf Center aims to educate the public about wolves. It publishes International Wolf magazine, offers outreach programs to schools and operates an interpretive center in Ely with a pack of resident gray wolves. For more information on the Center and interactions between wolves and humans, visit wolf.org.

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