BUTTE – Montana’s wolf season is off to a fast start, with 25 of the large predators killed after a six-week archery season and just over a week of rifle hunting.
Biologists with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are hoping to reduce the number of wolves in the state in an effort to cut down on predation of game animals and livestock attacks. The FWP Commission this year approved an aggressive wolf hunting season that includes no statewide quota, a season longer than four months and trapping.
As of Thursday afternoon, hunters had killed 25 wolves. And the kill was well distributed, with wolves taken in 12 of the state’s 17 wolf management units.
Mike Thompson, Region 2 wildlife manager based in Missoula, said the Bitterroot range along the Idaho border is among the areas where biologists would like to see wolf numbers brought down.
“We are really hoping that people will give it a try and work at it,” he said of wolf hunting from Lost Trail to Lookout passes, which straddle the border. “There are a lot of wolf packs in that country and they’re very well distributed.”
Across the state line in Idaho, hunters have killed 65 wolves in a rifle season that began Aug. 30. The season there continues through June in some districts where biologists are trying to reduce wolf numbers. In addition, trapping in Idaho begins Nov. 15 in some districts; others don’t allow trapping.
Montana will have its first wolf trapping season this year, which begins Dec. 15 and runs through February. It is open to trappers who have completed a course put on by FWP.
Biologists estimate there are a minimum of 653 wolves in the state in 130 different packs, but say the number is likely up to 30 percent higher. FWP has set a target population of 425 wolves by the end of the hunting season and made regulations more liberal to achieve that. Last year, hunters killed 166 wolves statewide, falling short of the total quota of 220 that biologists had set.
Only one wolf was killed by an archery hunter in Montana this year, said Quentin Kujala, FWP wildlife section coordinator. Another six wolves were taken during the backcountry rifle hunt for elk, which is limited to only a couple of remote wilderness areas.
The rifle season for wolves began this year on Oct. 15, the day after the archery season ended. Hunters killed a few wolves during those five days before the deer and elk season opened last weekend. And that put thousands of hunters in the field, causing the kill to pick up.
Kujala said this year’s longer, more liberal season reflects the healthy population and a desire to give hunters more opportunity to kill a wolf. For example, because there are no quotas by district, hunters don’t have to check to ensure that an area hasn’t closed.
“There’s a finiteness to the number of times that a hunter and a wolf run into each other, that allows us to have general seasons,” Kujala said.
The best wolf hunting is in the northwest corner of the state, Kujala said. He said hunters who are targeting wolves, rather than just hoping to bump into one while pursuing deer or elk, should head toward Regions 1 and 2.
And Kujala said they expect to see a small group of hunters who become proficient at killing wolves. Already this year, they’ve seen successful hunters who also killed a wolf last year.
John Fraley, Region 1 spokesman in Kalispell, said thus far they’ve had seven wolves killed in the region, coming from five of its six wolf management units.
“It’s been very geographically spread out,” he said.
Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at nick.
email@example.com. Missoulian reporter Rob Chaney contributed to this story.