Fred Strand and his 1½-year-old golden retriever, Hank, were walking a trail near Brule last week when Hank stopped to check out a scent.
"He was 20 or 30 feet ahead of me, sniffing the ground," said Strand, of Iron River. "Immediately after that, he started yelping and barking like he was in great distress. I quickly figured out what the issue was."
Hank had been caught in a wolf trap, said Strand, who is a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist at Brule.
The trap was a leg-hold trap with offset jaws, meaning that there was a gap between the jaws after it was sprung. Strand knew just what to do.
He released the jaws enough that Hank could pull his foot loose.
"He bounded off and continued hunting with no injury to his foot," Strand said.
That's the way leg-hold traps are designed, he said.
"They're designed to hold the animal, so the trapper can make the final decision whether to take the animal or let it go," Strand said.
If the trapper wants the animal that is caught in the trap, he shoots it, usually with a .22-caliber rifle. If the trapper does not want the animal, he releases it from the trap.
Strand said he has hunted grouse with Hank several times since the incident, and the dog's foot has been fine. He knows some grouse and woodcock hunters are concerned about their dogs getting caught in wolf traps or other traps. Wisconsin's wolf season opened Oct. 15. Some other Wisconsin trapping seasons opened Saturday.
"Is it a hazard? Yes," Strand said. "Was it a problem? No. I'm much more concerned about my dog getting into a porcupine or a skunk."
The state has about 650,000 hunters and about 18,000 trappers, DNR officials say, so the ratio of wolf license holders who will elect to trap, rather than hunt, wolves is expected to be small.
Thousands of trappers typically begin trapping coyotes and other species starting in mid-October, and few upland hunters have reported problems with dogs getting caught in traps, Strand said.
Trappers must put their names on their traps, so Strand knew the trap belonged to Keith Holly of Iron River. Holly said he tries to place his sets far enough down small logging roads to minimize the chance of an unintended catch.
"It was around a half-mile from a main road," Holly said. "I do worry about people's dogs. I try to stay away from where people are walking dogs. But grouse hunters get back in there."
He said he sets the tension on his traps' triggers high enough so that a small animal such as a skunk or coyote or a small dog would be unlikely to spring the trap.
Through Sunday, 18 wolves had been taken in Wisconsin's wolf season, 10 by hunters and eight by trappers, according to the DNR.
Strand said wolf trappers probably will set their traps along established trails such as the one he was hunting last week.
"If you're going to catch a wolf in a trap, you need to set it on a well-traveled trail," Strand said. "That's where wolves travel. Wolves are like people. They typically use well-traveled trails."
About 850 wolves live in Wisconsin, according to DNR estimates. That population nearly doubles each summer after pups are born, but returns to the original number by winter due to wolf mortality.