Hunters are reminded that coyote hunting is closed in the northern third of the state during the gun deer season. This closure extends across northern Wisconsin from east of Wausaukee, near Michigan on the east, to St. Croix Falls on the Minnesota border on the west. The coyote closure extends through the firearm deer hunting season , Nov. 22 through Dec. 10, and any Zone T hunts in northern Wisconsin.
The coyote hunting closure during the deer season has been in effect since 1987 to protect the gray (timber) wolf population in Wisconsin, according to Adrian Wydeven, mammal ecologist with the Department of Natural Resources. Gray wolves are listed as threatened species by the state and federal government. The state of Wisconsin is going through a process to remove wolves from the endangered and threatened species list this fall, and may complete the process sometime in 2004.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may conduct a federal delisting process in 2004 and wolves may possibly be removed from the federal list in 2005.
"Although most timber wolves generally reside in the heavily forested portions of the north, and central Wisconsin, some wolves occasionally travel outside these area," the ecologist said. Coyote hunting will continue to be open across the rest of the state, including the central forest areas between Black River Falls and Wisconsin Rapids that currently contain 12 to 13 wolf packs.
Isolated wolf packs or lone wolves may also occur in other areas including the following: the Mead Wildlife Area in southern Marathon County, Colburn Wildlife Area in northern Adams County, western Marquette and Washara Counties, Door County, western Oconto County and possibly other areas of the central portions of the state.
Gray wolves are protected species throughout the state including areas where coyote hunting is allowed. Deer hunters outside of the closed zone who plan to shoot coyotes should be careful to identify their targets. Wydeven said a person shooting a wolf may be fined $5,000 or more, plus face a prison sentence.
There are several ways to differentiate between wolves and coyotes the biologist explained. Wolves generally weigh between 50 and 100 pounds, while coyotes are about 20 to 40 pounds. Wolves have long legs and large feet; shoulder height for wolves is usually 27 to 33 inches, while for coyotes are usually 20 to 22 inches.
Differentiating between color is more difficult, Wydeven said. He explained that wolves and coyotes are similar in color, although wolves may sometimes be somewhat darker. The tail of wolves and coyotes hang either down or straight out, but never curled as in some dogs. Coyote ears are more pointed and larger than wolf ears. The muzzle of a wolf is large and blocky while coyotes have a more pointed or fox-like appearance. Footprints of wolves in the snow usually exceed 3.5 inches without the claws, while coyote’ tracks are less than 2.6 inches.
A good ruler for measuring tracks is a 30.06 or 270 bullet. This bullet is about 3.2 inches long. If dog-like tracks are much larger, they are more likely wolf (or large dog), and if smaller, are likely coyote or medium-sized dog.
Along with timber wolves, hunters should also be aware of other protected species such as elk and moose. Both of these are large members of the deer family and protected by state law. Elk were introduced into northern Wisconsin in 1995 near Clam Lake, and currently about 120 occur in Ashland, Bayfield, and Sawyer counties. A 5- to 6-month-old elk calf is about the same size as a full grown white-tailed doe, but can be distinguished from deer by dark brown color, and yellow rump patch.
Moose wander into the state from northern Minnesota and Michigan and a small population exists in northern Wisconsin. Although moose look very different than white-tailed deer, the antler of a yearling bull looks somewhat similar, Wydeven said. Normally is large, horse-size, dark body, very long legs, and large snout easily identify moose.
Even with very liberal antlerless deer seasons, hunters are reminded that not all large, brown four-legged animals are fair game. As with all hunting seasons, hunters are reminded to be absolutely sure of their target before they shoot. Mistakes in identification can be very costly.
Hunters are also reminded to report observations of wolves, elk, moose and other rare mammals to the nearest DNR office. Information on the date, location, and description of these animals helps the DNR to determine distribution of rare mammals in the state.