MADISON — Hunters are killing Wisconsin wolves at a dizzying rate, pushing another season toward an early end.
The season began Oct. 15 and is slated to last until Feb. 28 or until hunters reach a 150-animal statewide kill limit. As of Thursday morning, just eight days into the season, hunters had killed 103 animals, nearly 70 percent of the limit. State wildlife officials have closed four of the six wolf-hunting zones where hunters were quickly approaching zone-specific harvest limits or had reached or exceeded them.
Dave MacFarland, a large carnivore specialist for the Department of Natural Resources, said hunters didn’t reach the 70 percent mark last year until two weeks into the season. The kill limit was higher, at 251 animals, but the DNR issued about 1,000 more tags than this year. Hunters needed 34 days to reach the 70 percent mark in the inaugural season of 2012, when the quota was 116 animals and 1,160 tags were issued.
MacFarland attributed this year’s fast pace to more hunters heading into the woods early in the hopes of bagging a wolf before their zone closes. More hunters are using traps, perhaps the most efficient means of hunting wolves, he added. Of all the wolves killed so far this year, 85 percent were trapped, compared with 70 percent in 2013 and 52 percent in 2012, he said.
He also noted that the DNR issues 10 tags for every wolf counted in the quota, putting more hunters on the landscape than for other species. For example, the agency authorized 1,500 wolf tags this year compared with about 10,000 tags for 4,700 bears, a ratio of almost two hunters per bear, he said.
The 2012 and 2013 seasons each ended Dec. 23, two months ahead of the February stop date. MacFarland said he wasn’t sure when this season might end.
Hunters were still 32 animals shy of the quota in Zone 3, a corner of northwestern Wisconsin, and 28 wolves short of the limit in Zone 6, which encompasses most of southern two-thirds of the state.
MacFarland said the kill rate is typically slower in that area but DNR officials are watching for signs that they may have to shut the hunt down early to compensate for the over-quota numbers elsewhere.
“It’s definitely going quick,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see if that trend continues. It’s going to depend on how much people are motivated to get out in the two remaining units.”