Nov. 02–Wisconsin wolf hunters and trappers are killing their quarry at a much higher rate than last year.
So much so that the most controversial part of the state’s second-ever regulated season — using dogs to aid in the hunt — might not be an issue because the season might close before the hounds can be unleashed Dec. 2.
As of Thursday, three of the state’s six zones were closed and two others were on the brink of closure. Zones close when the allowable limit of wolves are killed.
That’s remarkable because this year a lot more wolves can be killed than last year.
In 2012, hunters and trappers took 117 wolves. It didn’t dent the population, and Wisconsin’s wolf management plan calls for the population to be reduced to 350. During the winter, the statewide wolf population was estimated to be between 809 and 834.
As a result, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources increased the maximum harvest by nontribal members to 251 wolves. As of Thursday, 181 wolves had been taken. Last year, it took until Dec. 23 to reach 117. This year’s season opened Oct. 15.
Why the increased success?
“You’d expect a hunted population to be harder to hunt as time goes on,” said David MacFarland, large carnivore specialist for the Wisconsin DNR. “The total population hasn’t changed a lot. So that pretty much leaves the hunters and trappers.”
In other words, they’ve gotten better, apparently learning how to find the wolves faster than the wolves are learning to avoid them.
MacFarland said some of the increased success might be the result of a shift toward trapping. Last year, 52 percent of the wolves taken were done so with traps. In Wisconsin, a wolf license allows one to hunt or trap the animal, so the DNR doesn’t have clear numbers yet on whether hunters actually have taken up trapping or more trappers purchased licenses. He said the agency should have a better idea months after the season, when data from postseason surveys will be available.
Last year, federal officials removed Great Lakes wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The protections succeeded in allowing populations to rebound from nearly being killed off in the Lower 48, and Wisconsin and Minnesota opened seasons later in 2012.
They remain controversial, but a new Wisconsin law passed before this season’s hunt attracted new controversy.
The new provisions, which have survived court challenges, allow hunters to pursue wolves with the aid of up to six dogs per hunting party. No other state allows such a practice, so it’s unclear how widely used it will be. In several Canadian provinces where hunting lupines with canines is allowed, the most common practice is for hounds to drive wolves into open areas where hunters are stationed or to bay the wolves, surrounding them in a position until a hunter arrives.
In Wisconsin, dogs are legal for bears, coyotes, rabbits, raccoons and a few other game species. So far this bear-hunting season, 23 dogs have been killed by wolves while pursuing bears.
Opponents of allowing the use of hounds for wolf hunting have argued it will be inhumane to dogs, some of which, they predict, will be killed by wolves.
The prediction might not have a chance to be tested. Hounds can’t be used until Dec. 2.
Only in Zone 3 in northwest Wisconsin, which covers a stretch with little public land, will the season have any chance of remaining open that long.
“I really have no idea,” MacFarland said. “The last time I tried to make a prediction about wolf hunting, I was wrong.”
Even if the quota isn’t reached by Feb. 28, the season will close.
Dave Orrick can be reached at 651-228-5512. Follow him at twitter.com/OutdoorsNow.