St. Paul — Wolf hunters and trappers may have gotten off to a slow start to the late season, which began Nov. 30, but they finished with a flurry.
The season in the Northeast Zone closed Dec. 18; it closed Dec. 27 in the Northwest Zone and Dec. 28 in the East-Central Zone.
The kill in the Northeast Zone was 37 animals (the target was 33), and the kill in the Northwest Zone was 103 (the target was 89). The kill in the East-Central Zone, where the target was 10, was nine wolves. Including the early season, hunters and trappers this year killed 237 wolves, which is 17 over the target of 220.
Officials have said the targets are just that – targets – and that they’re not overly concerned about being slightly over them, or slightly below them. While hunters and trappers exceeded the targets during the late season, hunters didn’t kill a wolf in the East-Central Zone during the early season. They also didn’t meet the targets in either the Northwest or Northeast zones during the early season, which opened along with the deer season.
The season closed in both the Northwest and Northeast zones more quickly this year than last year, while the East-Central Zone was open for more days than last year.
Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids, believes part of the reason the season closed sooner is because hunters and trappers were allowed to take fewer wolves – 220 this year, compared with 400 last year.
At the same time, the number of licenses offered for the season was lower, too.
But another reason for the quicker closure, he believes, is because trappers “were one year wiser” than they were last year, which marked the state’s inaugural wolf season.
Still, both hunters and trappers had to deal with heavy snow during the second season, which made access difficult.
“The late season started out slow this year, and that could have been the result of people not being geared up for the deep snow and the poor access,” Lightfoot said. “As conditions improved, and people got their snowmobiles and those kinds of things up and running, they were able to get out and things really picked up.”
Last year, “a significant number” of the wolves taken had mange, ranging from mild to severe, he said.
“This year, we’re not seeing that to the same extent,” he said. “We’re seeing some just absolutely beautiful animals.”
In addition, there seemed to be less consternation over this year’s season.
“Last year, being the first year and a new event, it drew a lot of scrutiny, and we heard a lot about it,” Lightfoot said. “This year, at least in the northeast, it was a minor event, except for the people who were participating. It didn’t really register much, which is a good thing.”
He believes the results of this year’s wolf season say something about the animal’s status in the state.
“This year, I think the success rate we are seeing and the quickness with which we hit out harvest targets indicate we have a very healthy wolf population out there,” Lightfoot said. “The fact that we hit them before the first of the year says something about the health and viability of our wolves.”