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Grouse hunting trip turns into terrifying experience for Bertha sportsman

This is a gray wolf that was chasing a dog last weekend in the Huntersville State Forest in Wadena County. (Photo courtesy Minnesota DNR)

Dale Finck was pounding some heavy brush in the Huntersville State Forest the morning of Oct. 6 when he heard a yelp followed by some growling. The 43-year-old Bertha man was grouse hunting with his two German Shorthaired pointers, and his first thought was one of them had tackled a porcupine.

Finck ducked down to look under the trees in front of him and saw some commotion ahead. Then he saw his 3-year-old female pointer, Sage, heading directly for him, running for her life, with a gray wolf twice her size right on her heels.

Finck has hunted grouse for more than 25 years, and until Saturday, he had never seen a wolf in the wild. Yet, when the wolf came out of the brush behind his hunting dog, he instantly knew what he was up against - one of Minnesota's natural-born killers.

"When I see Sage, I see wolf at virtually the same time," Finck said. "It was a no-doubter."

As the terrified dog closed the distance between herself and Finck, she managed to squeeze under a pine and gain a couple feet on the wolf. But the big predator still loomed over her.

Finck said he only had about three seconds to make a decision. His 12-gauge shotgun was loaded with 7 ½ shot, and he emptied it into the chest and face of the charging wolf, dropping it dead just 15 feet away from him.

"Sage was coming at me 100 miles per hour, and he is on her and I have got to make a decision because he is not stopping," Finck said. "Something bad is about to happen, so I decide to shoot the wolf."

Sage was nipped in the rear and scared out of her wits, but was otherwise unharmed.

Finck's other dog, a 9-year-old male named Cody, was also frightened by the incident, and the two dogs never left their master as he trudged a half-mile back to the truck he had arrived in with his dad, Richard Finck. When his dad joined him at the truck, they called Wadena Conservation Officer Greg Oldakowski but discovered he was out of the area on another job. They reached Park Rapids Conservation Officer Sam Hunter and reported the incident. Hunter joined the two grouse hunters in the northeastern Wadena County forest, investigated the site of the shooting and removed the wolf carcass.

"That's my job; to make sure things happened the way they were supposed to happen," Hunter said.

Hunter knows Finck through his work as a firearms safety instructor. After investigating the site, she said she was satisfied with his statement about what occurred.

In addition to being an avid hunter, Finck is a fifth-grade teacher and varsity boys' basketball coach at Bertha-Hewitt.

"He is a stand-up guy, he is not a poacher," Hunter said.

Hunter considers Finck's experience, while terrifying, to be a fluke.

"The odds of it ever happening again are probably pretty rare," Hunter said.

Hunter also said the dead wolf was an adult male, which she later found to weigh almost 90 pounds. The size of the animal was impressive. When she put the dead wolf in her vehicle, Hunter said it seemed to dwarf the 100-pound Labrador retriever riding with her.

Hunter said she usually gives the carcass of furbearers that come into her possession to the Minnesota Trappers Association. They have a program that acquaints school kids with the animals of the wild. In the case of the wolf Finck killed, Hunter said it was not possible to salvage any part of the animal.

Neither Hunter nor Finck believed the wolf to have rabies.

"This was a healthy, adult wolf," Finck said.

Hunter added that Finck will not be cited for shooting the wolf. Under state law, a wolf can be killed by someone to protect themselves or if the wolf poses an "immediate threat" to livestock or pets.

Since Hunter was not present, she could only offer speculation about what provoked the wolf to go after Finck's dog.

"We don't know what was going through the wolf's mind," Hunter said. "That wolf could have been sleeping, and the dog runs by. Well, a wolf in nature is going to protect his territory when it comes to other canines."

Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Manager Rob Naplin of Park Rapids also considers Finck's actions under the circumstances to be completely justified. Naplin has reviewed reports of other incidents where grouse hunters have reported their dogs missing in wolf country and some where they have almost lost a dog to a wolf. Naplin said one hunting dog was attacked by a pack of wolves, but the hunter was able to fend them off.

Attacks on livestock are not common, but they do occur, Naplin said. In these cases, state trappers are called in to handle the situation.

"We have gray wolves in Wadena County and we've had wolves removed over the years from Wadena County," Naplin said.