“I cannot tell you how this coyote has turned me upside down. Wiley is a member of our family. I feel like I am fighting for the life of my relative!” — Rick Hanestad, Dunn County
It is not often that a hunter calls me, asking for help. In November, Rick Hanestad, NASCAR All American Series driver, lifelong hunter, was calling me to help him save the life of a coyote.
Rick’s father and uncle farm over 1,000 acres in western Dunn County. In March 2011 his uncle allowed a neighbor to hunt turkeys on his land. The DNR promotes coyote killing year-round, and 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 daughter and son went looking for her pups. 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 absolutely sure that it was the den of the female coyote shot days earlier. When he checked again, 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 six months he would be so vicious, I would either let him go, or shoot him.” Did the coyote 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 a policeman, seeing the coyote outside in a pen, informed Rick’s wife that “the DNR will be out to pick up your coyote.” 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 Rep. Jeff Mursau’s aide, “In our state we have numerous coyotes, but 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 noted that about an hour from his Ladysmith home, someone owns a place where people take hounds to chase coyotes in an enclosed pen, and on occasion coyotes are torn to pieces by hounds. A neighbor’s son had seen a coyote killed by dogs, with people enjoying the “sport.” Former DNR head of special investigations, Tom Solin, told me 10 years 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 five 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. The next day, Rick called me, joyfully: “The DNR will sell me Wiley for $24 and the cost of the state license, 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 many songs. Rick says that “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 enjoy a different song every night.”
Hanestad describes himself as having a deep lineage in hunting. His uncle taught him hunting and trapping from the age of 5. 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 about 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, ‘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 percent the first 10 minutes — and 100 percent 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.”
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 Feb. 19 at Laurie.Ross@Wisconsin.gov. Written comments can be made through Feb. 22.