Debunking “Hunters for Hunters” group

January 30, 2024
Maureen Hackett, MD, DFAPA

A group named “Hunters for Hunters” emerged in Minnesota hosting several “Wolf Predation Meetings” across the state under the banner of killing wolves in the name of deer conservation. They are an anti-wolf group. The group rallies supporters with the question, “How do we control the predator problem that's destroying our deer population? Let's talk about it!” The group claims wolves are to blame for a low deer harvest this fall. The problem? The data and science don’t support their position. Over this last ten years, 2017 saw the highest deer harvest with 197,778 deer harvested; this same year, was the highest wolf numbers have been in the past ten years (2,856). And while the pendulum of the deer harvest has swung nearly 60,000 deer in the last 10 years, the wolf population has remained relatively flat if not declining by comparison. In fact, the worst deer harvest in this time was in 2014, a year where wolf hunting was legal and saw a significant number of wolf deaths at the hands of humans. But blame the wolves, right?

One of the most vocal people in Hunters for Hunters is board member, speaker, and self-described Whitetail Deer Expert Steve Porter. Porter is a deer farmer from Lake Bronson, MN. He and other deer farming interests are in a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota for rules regarding deer farms and limiting the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). If you listen to Steve Porter, whether in a legislative committee hearing about deer farming or about deer hunting and wolves, you will hear someone who exaggerates and even makes up facts and takes on a victim role with ease.  He claimed in a committee hearing in the MN state Capitol, that he would be out of business with laws enacted to protect wild deer from CWD that spreads from some deer farms. The laws passed, he is still in business. Porter falsely claims that a robust wolf population is destroying the legacy of deer hunting in MN.

Most deer hunters and wildlife observers know that while deer harvests may have been low in some areas, the harsh winters are likely to blame— not wolves. This is supported by biologists and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). There are places with wolves that had good deer harvests, and we know that places without wolves had low deer numbers. Did we forget about the droughts and wildfires too? Deer need plant foods like acorns and hazelnuts. With the droughts, fires and even poor air quality, environmental insults to our basic plant environments may also harm deer and many animals.

Hunters for Hunters are attracting people who want to kill wolves, for just about any reason. They found a well-timed opportunity to go after deer hunters’ angst over their lack-luster hunting this fall knowing the numbers were looking down, especially in NE Minnesota.  Meanwhile, many crop farmers are making claims for deer damage to their crops— what do they think about deer numbers? Wildlife observers look at the plants and trees and their production of wildlife food, such as acorns and hazelnuts along with other habitat issues to see what may be happening with wild animals. With this year’s mild winter (so far) and with the large acorn masts last fall, we may have a banner deer season next year. Then what will they say to turn public opinion against the wolf?

The group, Hunters for Hunters, is very clear in its deadly mission. While touting themselves as a “hunters’ rights group”, Hunters for Hunters’ main goal is to get the federal protections of the Endangered Species Act removed for all wolves. The group is open about their ties to Kansas-based group Hunter Nation— the same group that successfully sued the state of Wisconsin to hold a wolf hunting and trapping season in February, 2021. The results were disastrous with over 216 wolves slaughtered in just 60 hours. This was during a one-year time frame when wolves were not federally protected following the Trump administration delisting all wolves in Oct. 2020.

Hunters for Hunters has close ties to Safari Club International (SCI), an expansive trophy hunting organization with high dollar hunters known for buying opportunities to kill rare and endangered animals. Think Cecil the lion’s killer who in the end shot him up close with an arrow after tracking the wounded lion for 10-12 hours. Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association were lead plaintiffs for delisting wolves in 2011 and fought the decision to relist them in court. Now Hunters for Hunters is pushing for a federal law to remove protections for all wolves and it will not have a judicial review if passed. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) & Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) and authored by Lauren Boebert (R-CO), is misleadingly named the “Trust the Science Act.” The problem? Science does not support delisting.

After a brief period of no federal protections, Minnesota wolves are back on the federal Endangered Species List due to states not providing enough protections. Wolves are still recovering from nearly going extinct. Hunters for Hunters claims that wolf populations in Minnesota are “higher than ever,” but today’s MN DNR estimated wolf population is even lower than before the 2012-2015 wolf hunting and trapping seasons. Wolves in Minnesota are listed as “threatened” and wolves are killed for livestock producers for wolf-livestock conflicts. We know, through scientific studies, that legal wolf killing results in more illegal and secret wolf killing. In fact, these wolf killers hide in plain sight posting on social media #SSS or “Shoot, Shovel, & Shut-Up.” The current estimate of wolf numbers in Minnesota is fewer than twenty years ago.

Even the MN DNR’s own data on 16 years of collared wolves, shows a more than doubling of annual wolf mortality after the first wolf season in 2012. The worst part is that annual mortality went from 20% to 43% and human caused deaths more than tripled from 10% to 35%. These high death rates continued for more than 5 years after the hunts ended through the end of the data in 2019. This data means that a wolf has a one in two chance of dying over the course of one year. Wolf packs need to mature over years and learn how to support themselves to maintain a territory. Much of the talk of wolves being seen in places unlike before may simply be due to such a severe disruption to their packs. Our MN DNR cannot control illegal wolf killing but the data shows it is happening.  

Hunters for Hunters says, “Wolves should be balanced like any other species, requiring management in order to preserve and grow the abundance of the wolf’s prey species; deer and moose, for the betterment of the hunting community.” However, wolves are NOT prey species! Unlike deer and other species hunted in Minnesota, wolves live in social packs and depend on each other for survival. The social structure of the pack determines their survival and reproduction. All members of the pack are essential to raise their pack’s maximum of one litter per year. Now, the average pack size in Minnesota is 3.6 wolves which is dramatically down from 1998 when the packs were averaging 5.4 wolves.  Killing a wolf endangers other wolves by disrupting their pack and disrupted packs are more likely to target easy prey such as livestock.

Hunters for Hunters says, “Currently, the state of Minnesota is not engaging in any form of management, endangering our hunting traditions, and that the state is using the Endangered Species Act to not engage the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and other states in the effort to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act in the Great Lakes region.” Once again, this is false. Not only is wildlife services permitted to kill wolves that are creating conflicts with pets and livestock, but the 2023-2032 MN DNR wolf plan contains wolf hunting and trapping seasons. As apex carnivores, wolves face many threats to their existence that can cause a boom and bust in numbers. One disease outbreak can wipe out 90% of the population. Wolves face threats from other carnivores such as mountain lions and bears and they frequently starve to death. The survival of wolves depends on their ability to hold a territory. The best way to keep wolves stable and reduce interference with livestock is to leave them alone and use nonlethal prevention methods, not a wolf hunting and trapping season.

Remember, wolves in Minnesota are the only population that did not go extinct in the contiguous United States. Recent genetic studies show that our population is genetically diverse and thus necessary for the recovery of the species. Wolves are supposed to continue to recover and move out into suitable habitat.

The mission of Howling For Wolves and our top legislative priority, is to “remove wolf hunting and trapping from state law to protect wild wolves for future generations.” Existing Minnesota law authorizes the MN DNR to hold a recreational hunting and trapping season on wolves.

Let’s be clear: illegal wolf killing already happens, even with federal protections.  A hunt will endanger them and encourage more killing. Wolf killing cannot be controlled. Killing one wolf can decimate the entire pack. This is known as “additive mortality.” We need a paradigm shift in how we allow wolves to live and control their own population and territories. We know they do not tolerate habitat loss, and of course as apex carnivores, wolves often die early deaths and their pups starve without added threats from humans.

Howling For Wolves will continue to be a strong voice for the wolf at the Minnesota Capitol. Thank you for your continued advocacy – and stay tuned for more opportunities to speak for the wolf particularly during this upcoming state legislative session February-May, 2024. You can take an action now from this website and you can attend Wolf Day 2024!

Maureen Hackett, MD, DFAPA
President and Founder, Howling For Wolves