BHSU student shares wolf-tracking course experience


BHSU student and sociology major Thomas Mauck shares with us his life changing experience after attending a unique wolf tracking course in the Northwoods of Minnesota at the beginning of this semester.

Editors Note: The following is the story in its entirety, written by Thomas, and largely unedited by Jacket Journal staff for content and news-style.

In early October Professor Brian Smith referred my mammalogy class to a two-week course worth three credits that was taught in Northern Minnesota where we would learn how to track, learn survival skills, and most importantly learn about wolves. I was instantly hooked as I wanted to gain more knowledge on these topics and get more experience with wildlife and the environment.
My journey starts out just East of Sandstone, MN at the Osprey Wilds Learning Center. At the center there were multiple cabins, a barn with a rock-climbing wall, bird enclosure, a building with classrooms and the cafeteria and learning building. During my time at the center, we learned important skills and learned a lot of information about gray wolves in the wild. All of this learning would soon come into play later on during the two-week course. While we were at the center, we learned some interesting facts and information about gray wolves and the environment. We were able to hear multiple presentations from some of the big-name people that deal a lot in wolf research. One man being Dr. Dave Mech who is one of the first wolf researchers in the United States there we as a group were able to ask him questions about his experience and questions about wolves. During the learning portion of the course, I learned a lot of fact about wolves. Two of many amazing facts that I learned is that wolves are keystone species, so they really help in the environment and the wildlife around them and second wolves aren’t as aggressive as most people think. Since the 1900’s there has only been 2 fatal attacks on humans by wolves and just short of 30 injuries.
During this course there wasn’t just learning inside but there was also learning outside. We learned how-to cross-country ski, snowshoe, track animals, radio telemetry to track wolves with collars, survival skills such as orienteering, and we learned animal and plant identification. To learn how to track we went to multiple state parks and hiked around to identify tracks and explain what was going on with the tracks. One of my favorite parts of the trip was when the director Bryan Wood discovered a kill cite that had been feasted on by wolves. There we were able to see the sheer power of these wolves and identify important characteristics by using their tracks. During this trip we were also able to witness captive wolves and observe their many behaviors while learning more and more about these magnificent animals. While we were observing wolves, we heard multiple howls and we even got to see them feed on deer that the staff at the Wildlife Science Center tossed out to them (They were donated dead deer). At the center there weren’t just wolves, there was even mountain lions, bears, bobcats, foxes, and much more to observe.

After learning the basics and the important skills of tracking and identifying we set off even further North towards Ely, MN where we spent three nights to tracks animals and learn more about wolves and the environment. During our stay in Ely, we went out to tasty restaurants in the town, went tourist shopping, went to the International Wolf Center, the North American Bear Center, petted happy sled dogs for an hour, hiked around the state parks and tracked wolves and other animals that we could find, we learned about an inspiring conservationist, outdoor enthusiast and author named Sigurd Olson. We also went to the boundary waters to experience their elegance as those waters are untouched by industry and mining, and open to anyone who wants to come experiences the peace of untouched land. Finally, while we were in Ely we went up in planes and flew around trying to get signals of wolves from down below using the radio telemetry equipment. It was really cool doing that because we were able to get some amazing pictures and track wolves. Unfortunately, my group did not see wolves but we got a strong signal from down below so the wolves were there, but we couldn’t spot them.

After our awesome stay in Ely, we made our way towards the North Shore of Lake Superior where we would stay a few nights and put more of our tracking skills to the test. For the short time we spent on the North Shore my group of four went cross country skiing and snowshoeing while looking for tracks. While we were on the North Shore, we found tons of tracks from a variety of species ranging from white-tailed deer to snowshoe hare, to cottontail rabbit, to weasels, to lynx tracks, to squirrel tracks, crow and grouse tracks and yes of course tons and tons of amazing wolf tracks and wolf signs. One of the coolest things we did on the North Shore was go on a big group night hike lead by Bryan Wood. We traversed through the quiet dark forest using nothing but our eyes and the moon, no flashlights, we made our way to a frozen lake where Bryan opened our minds to the wonders of space as we gazed at stars. After that he entertained us with his accurate wolf call that sounded just like a wolf. Sadly, we did not get a response. As we neared the end of the trip, we made our way South along the North Shore to have lunch in Duluth, MN where we got to spend more time with new friends and experience the awe-inspiring Lake Superior. Before we knew it our two weeks had finished up and the course was over as we arrived back at the Osprey Wilds Center.The takeaways that I have from the entire two-week trip was the many amazing friends I made as we bonded through tough times and fun times, making each other laugh as much as we could. More takeaways were the people you meet, the knowledge that you gain, the tracks that you see and the life experiences that you make. Life comes at you much slower while you’re there. You begin to not worry so much about what is going on at home and you begin to embrace the beauty and elegance that Northern MN has to offer. I will never forget my time in Northern Minnesota.

I would like to add a special shoutout to the Executive Director Bryan Wood who made this trip amazing and I would also like to shoutout the TA’s that helped make this trip fun, especially Katrina, Claire and Devin. And a shoutout to Professor Brian Smith for advertising this course.

If anyone is interested in doing this course and getting the credits, contact me or Professor Smith
[email protected] or [email protected]