Cloquet youth hangs out with wolves at deer stand near Brimson
Jake Johnson had no intention of getting down from his deer stand. Not as long as those five timber wolves were milling around below him.
It was late on opening day of Minnesota's firearms deer season last Saturday, and Jake, 13, of Cloquet was hunting with family members from their camp near Brimson.
The wolves had been hanging around within 20 yards of his stand for half an hour, he said.
"It was cool but also a little scary," Jake said. "I didn't know what they were going to do."
Wolves aren't uncommon in the Brimson area, said Jake's dad, Steve Johnson, 54, a teacher at Proctor High School and Jedlicka Middle School.
"We've been up there 42 years," Steve said. "We have seen wolves quite often."
When Steve and older son Zach, 17, approached on ATVs about 40 yards from Jake's elevated tree stand at the end of the day, they expected him to be waiting on the trail. Steve yelled at Jake to get down from his stand and walk out to the ATV trail.
"He said, 'I can't come now. There are wolves in here,'" Steve recalled.
Steve called back, trying to get the picture. He couldn't quite believe that wolves would still be there with all of the activity and yelling.
"Right now?" Steve hollered.
"Right now!" Jake yelled back.
Jake had had plenty of time to watch the wolves.
"They were pretty big, like small bears almost," he said. "They looked huge. Two of them were kind of black. The other three were kind of grayish."
Jake had been yelling at them for about 20 minutes, and finally two of the wolves broke off from the others and disappeared in the woods behind his stand. He could still hear them in the woods behind him.
"The other three walked back and forth and laid down," he said. "If I yelled at them as loud as I could, they'd get up and come within about 15 yards."
So, no, he wasn't climbing down from that stand when his dad called to him.
Understand, the Johnsons accept wolves as part of the landscape. The hunters aren't particularly concerned about wolves harming them.
Jake had no deer scent out near his stand, so there was no scent other than perhaps his own that might have attracted the wolves.
"That's odd behavior for wolves," said Rich Staffon, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager at Cloquet. "Usually, they're pretty wary. You'd think if you yelled, they'd run off."
Steve Johnson still couldn't believe there were five wolves by Jake's stand that evening.
"I yelled, 'Just come down from the stand and they'll run off,' " Steve said. "He says, 'I'm not coming out of the stand.' "
Finally, Steve suggested Jake shoot his gun to scare off the wolves. Jake fired one slug into the ground from his Remington 870 pump shotgun.
"He yells, 'They left,' " Steve said.
At that point, Steve -- with his rifle -- walked the 40 yards in to meet Jake at his stand. Jake climbed down, and the two walked out to the ATVs.
The wolves were not seen again.
The next morning, Jake was planning to hunt from the same stand. On the way out to the stand, he told his dad he wasn't sure he wanted to hunt there.
"But as we got closer, he said, 'I think I'll be all right,' " his dad said.
"I was a little nervous," Jake said. "I wasn't sure if I'd see them again. But after a couple hours, I was care-free in the stand. I figured they wouldn't come back."
And they haven't.
Nor has he seen any deer from the stand yet.