By JAMES GORMAN
Published: August 20, 2012
Here is a conundrum. I would be delighted to have Randy Newberg come to my yard and shoot the deer, woodchucks and rabbits that eat everything in sight.
But, I confess, my enthusiasm for watching him and his hunting partner, Matt Clyde, find and kill a wolf in two episodes of “On Your Own Adventures” is minimal. Nonexistent, really.
That may be partly because when he describes how the Montana hunting season on wolves finally came about, he mentions 15 years of frustration as “a bunch of wingnut screwballs from wherever tell us how to manage wildlife.”
The Sportsman Channel, a cable television network, has billed two episodes of this hunting show (one appeared last Thursday, and the conclusion is this Thursday) as not only the first televised wolf hunt in the lower 48 states but also “equal parts education and adventure,” a television event that “tackles the issue of wolf management head-on.”
The network’s timing is impeccable. Montana and Idaho started their wolf-hunting seasons in 2011. And Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin are to have their first this year. All have been controversial, but a lot of the action is now in Wisconsin, where the season is supposed to start in October.
Wisconsin will allow the use of dogs in wolf hunting, which the other states do not, and the state has been sued on the basis that it is promoting animal fighting, since wolves often kill dogs when they encounter them, and the hunt will lead to more encounters.
Also, a large part of the wolf population is on land for which several Chippewa tribes have game management rights. The wolf is sacred to the Chippewa, and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission is asking the state to stop the hunt. “Wingnut screwballs” everywhere.
So it would have been a great service if the Sportsman Channel and Mr. Newberg had tried to portray some of the arguments for hunting wolves in a way that nonhunters would understand. But this is clearly a show for hunters — never mind other views. As Mr. Newberg sees it, wolves kill elk and livestock, there cannot be unlimited numbers of wolves, and hunting is the way to keep numbers down: case closed.
There are no wildlife biologists on the show, no one to discuss how to decide what size wolf populations should be or how many elk wolves kill. There is no discussion of any sort, just Mr. Newberg’s claims and then Mr. Newberg hunting.
As far as the hunting goes, Mr. Newberg is careful, skilled and indefatigable. He and Mr. Clyde hike and drive around southwestern Montana for 11 days trying to find a wolf and get within 500 yards to take a shot.
When they do kill a wolf — and I don’t really think it is a spoiler to say that they do — the kill is as quick and clean as they can make it.
Then, however, Mr. Newberg describes the hunt as “the funnest thing I’ve done in years.” I think I know what he means. I’ve been thrilled to catch and eat a fish. When my dear, now-departed lab-setter mix went on the warpath and treed a woodchuck in my yard — yes, woodchucks will climb trees in extremis — I was exhilarated to join in, and poked it out of its cleft in the tree, with fatal consequences.
I don’t think that makes me some kind of monster, and I don’t think hunters who enjoy hunting are ghouls.
But woodchucks in general are doing fine. The same with deer. And rabbits. There are lots of creatures to hunt where only one animal’s life is at issue.
Large predators, on the other hand, are not doing well around the planet. And we successfully wiped the wolves out of the lower 48 once. We could certainly do it again.
Fun? I can’t see it. But then, I was pretty sure from the get-go that I was in the wingnut group.