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Northern Minn. hunter has harrowing encounter with pack of wolves

Justin Bailey of Keewatin and his German wire-haired pointer, Henry, had a memorable encounter with several wolves while hunting near Isabella on Tuesday. Justin Bailey photo

ISABELLA, Minn.—Justin Bailey of Keewatin was hunting ruffed grouse near Isabella on Tuesday morning when a wolf chased his hunting dog out of the woods.

"He was coming at me 100 miles per hour, and right behind him was a wolf, biting at his heels," said Bailey, 33. "They probably passed 5 or 6 feet from us."

Bailey was standing at the edge of the road with his son, Andrew Bailey, 3, and his nephew, Brock Bjelland, 5, of Marble, whom he had brought along for the day of hunting.

The wolf chased the dog, Henry, a 1-year-old German wire-haired pointer, back to Bailey's pickup in the road, he said.

"The dog jumped in the window of the truck, and the wolf did a quick lap around the truck," Bailey said.

That's when Bailey noticed two more wolves coming out of the woods at the edge of the road. Three more came out about 100 yards down the road, Bailey said.

"I think we saw six total," he said. "I was yelling at the one that went around the truck. He wasn't very timid, that's for sure. He was 15 feet from the truck and turned around and watched me put the kids in the truck."

During the encounter, Bailey fired one round from his 20-gauge shotgun into the air in an effort to scare off the wolves.

"They didn't even flinch," he said.

His dog was not injured, Bailey said.

The incident occurred about 11 a.m. Tuesday about four miles from Isabella, he said. Bailey's nephew had seen a grouse at the edge of the road run into the woods. Bailey pulled his truck over and let Henry out.

"I sent him into the woods to find the bird," he said. "He did one pass in there and got on point. I was on the road... He had the bird pinned down (pointed). Then he made this awful screech — it was like a cross between a yip and a cry. He must have been about 30 yards away."

That's when Henry came charging out of the woods with the wolf nipping at his hind legs. Bailey said the wolves "looked pretty healthy."

"They're starting to put on their winter coats," he said.

Bailey said he never thought about shooting at any of the wolves.

"I played it back in my head," he said. "Yes, I would have shot at the wolves because the kids were there, but it happened so fast it didn't even cross my mind."

In Minnesota, gray wolves were most recently classified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act as of December 2014. Wolves may be not be killed except in defense of human life.

Bailey and the boys continued to hunt during the afternoon in an area about 10 miles from where they had encountered the wolves. Bailey shot one grouse. The boys seemed to find the wolf encounter fascinating, he said.

"They thought it was the coolest experience in the north woods," he said. "They were seeing all kinds of wolves all day long."

The encounter has made Bailey rethink hunting grouse with Henry.

"It makes me not want to bring my dog in the woods anymore," he said. "It makes you think twice."

Henry apparently had made up his own mind after the incident.

"The dog refused to leave the truck," Bailey said. "I couldn't get him out of the truck the rest of the day."

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