It is not often that a hunter calls me, asking for help. In November, I found an urgent message on my answer machine. I returned the call immediately. Rick Hanestad, Nascar All American Series driver, life-long hunter/trapper and hound hunter, was calling me to help him save the life of a coyote.
Rick launched into his story. His father and uncle farm over 1000 acres in western Dunn County. In March, 2011, his uncle allowed a neighbor to hunt turkeys on his land. The DNR promotes coyote killing 24/7 year-round, so that hunter killed a lactating female coyote. Rick said, “Patricia, I don’t like that. When I heard a female was shot in the spring, it made me sick to my stomach.” He and his then 7 year-old daughter and 14 year-old son went looking for her pups. Three days later they found five crying puppies, their eyes not yet open. But he was “so scared of the DNR” that he just raked around the den to make sure it was the den of the coyote killed. When he checked again, then the fifth day since the coyote had been shot, only one pup remained alive, dehydrated and weak. Rick and his family spent the night dripping fluids down his throat. They named him Wiley.
Asked what he thought would happen, Rick said, “I figured that at about 6 months he would be so vicious, I would either let him go, or shoot him.” Did he ever show any aggression to their old male lab, their children, or their horses – to anyone? “Never. He is such a sweet animal. I trust him absolutely with my 8 year-old daughter. He is best friends with our dog.”
In November, 2012, a policeman was called out to neighboring land on a deer-stand dispute. Seeing the coyote outside in a pen, the policeman informed Rick’s wife that “the DNR will be out to pick up your coyote.” (to kill him )
Rick dedicated himself, full-time, to save their family pet. He called the local warden, the town supervisor, his legislators, and an outdoor radio host in Minnesota. Hanestad wrote Representative Mursau’s aide,” In our state we have numerous coyotes, but without hunting dogs, who ever sees one? I would love to take him to things like a biology class at schools or other situations where his extraordinary kindness around people could be shared.”
He continued, “I also found out about an individual that lives about an hour from our home in Ladysmith, WI. This person (owns) a place that people take their hunting hounds to chase coyotes in an enclosed pen. Talking with one person that uses the pen I was told that coyotes are chased and, on occasion, tore to pieces by hounds while people watch. This guy does have a license legal by our state. I can’t believe it! “ A neighbor’s son had seen a coyote killed by a pack of dogs in that enclosure, with people enjoying the “sport”.
Wisconsin coyotes have been taken legally from our state, for this legalized fenced torture, and required reports have not been made for 10 years. There has been no DNR oversight. Former DNR head of special investigations, Tom Solin, told me, a decade ago, that the DNR should not allow coyotes to be used in these enclosures because they cannot climb trees or hide from the dogs. They get ripped apart on the ground.
Hanestad was looking for a way to get his coyote’s story to the public. Someone at the DNR gave him my name. He told me, “They might as well send 5 police officers, because they will not be taking our coyote, they will be taking me.”
All this required is a commonly DNR- issued captive wildlife license. I made a few calls targeted to captive wildlife DNR personnel, asking if Hanestad has to promise to have this coyote ripped apart by dogs to get the appropriate license. The next day, Rick called me, joyfully: “The DNR will sell me Wiley for $24.00, and the cost of the state license, no fine, and I just have to build him a 144 square foot pen. He would be standing in his own feces. I am building him an acre. He is ours!”
Rick says Wiley is the star of his hunting community. People come to sit in the living room and hear him sing a thousand different songs. “Patricia, the different vocalizations amaze me on a nightly basis. I’ve heard coyotes numerous times in the wild, but no one can possibly appreciate how beautiful they sound. My family gets to hear different songs every night.”
Hanestad describes himself as having a deep lineage in hunting. His uncle taught him hunting and trapping from the age of five. All his teen years he trapped, on average, setting 100 traps on a trap-line. His average take was “130 coons, 40-50 red foxes, and 15-20 coyotes per season”. He told me, “I always heard ‘the only good coyote is a dead coyote’. The coyotes would be snarling in a foothold trap, and I would beat them to death with a stick. I have killed hundreds of them. I never thought about it. I thought of it just like getting rid of weeds.”
And now? “It makes me sick to my stomach when I think of what I did in the past.”
Does he think other coyotes are just like Wiley? “Absolutely – they don’t do a thing to harm anybody.” Why does he think they are so hated? “Ignorance – it is just ignorance.” Does it make him rethink all of his assumptions about animals?
Hanestad emailed me, “When the warden and the state wildlife biologist came to visit him, Wiley fell to his back and the biologist scratched his belly. The biologist stated ‘oh my god; he’s just like a dog’. That to me was worth its weight in gold because on the spot I changed his opinion of coyotes.”
I asked him how many hard core hunters he thought would be changed by meeting Wiley. Hanestad replied “20% the first ten minutes – and 100% if they had experienced a week of what I have. How could they not be changed?” But he cautioned, “Some people choose to remain ignorant.”
Wiley Coyote, Trickster, power animal, has come to Wisconsin. Wisconsin citizens can no longer tolerate a legislature and DNR who choose ignorance.
The Natural Resources Board meets Feb. 26 in Madison to take comments on permanent rules to use packs of dogs to hunt wolves. The deadline to register to comment is February 19 at Laurie.Ross@Wisconsin.gov. Written comments can be made through February 22.