Minnesota’s wolf harvest is nearing the target harvest for the Northeast Zone. As of Tuesday morning, 54 wolves had been taken in the zone, and the target harvest — or quota — is 58. State wildlife officials are keeping an eye on the daily tally and are poised to close the zone if the quota is reached or is likely to be reached.
The East-Central Zone was closed several days ago when the harvest reached eight wolves. The target harvest for that zone is nine. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has said it might close a zone to further harvest in order to “properly limit take.”
In the Northwest Zone, the state’s largest, a total of 58 wolves have been taken. The target harvest there is 133.
No decision has been made about closing the wolf hunt in the Northeast Zone, said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist at Grand Rapids.
“I think we’re going to look at it every day and decide if we need to make the closure notification,” Stark said. “There’s a chance that a couple of wolves could be taken each day at this point.”
The wolf hunt has exceeded the expectations of DNR officials so far, Stark said.
With 3,600 licensed wolf hunters in the early season and a total harvest so far of 120 wolves, that’s more than a 3 percent success rate. Western states that have held wolf seasons for the past couple of years have had success rates of 1 percent or less.
Stark said there could be several factors for the success of the Minnesota hunt.
“I’m not entirely sure, but I think it has something to do with the wolf density here and more people in the woods. It might move wolves around more,” he said.
Minnesota’s early wolf hunt is being held concurrently with the state’s firearms deer season, which puts about 500,000 hunters afield, many of them in the north where the wolf season is being held.
Stark believes most wolf hunters are hunting wolves incidentally to their deer hunting.
“So far, (the wolf harvest) is tracking pretty well with the deer taken per day,” Stark said. “I think that probably the (wolf) hunting is mostly opportunistic to deer hunting.”
Anecdotal reports from successful hunters who have presented their wolf carcasses at DNR check stations bear that out, Stark said.
Quotas in the three wolf zones were set based on wolf populations and densities, said John Erb, DNR furbearer research biologist at Grand Rapids. He said he wasn’t sure why hunters in the Northeast have been more successful than those in the Northwest Zone. He thought wolves in the Northwest might have been more vulnerable because the country is more open and hunters could see them more easily.
“But you could make a reverse argument that wolves in the Northwest Zone may be a little smarter,” Erb said. “They’ve had to deal with that landscape for longer. Maybe they’re a little smarter. Maybe the ones in the (Northeast) forest don’t see many people. Maybe they’re less wary.
“But it could be just that there are a lot more licenses in that Northeast Zone.”
The early wolf season opened Nov. 3. It runs through Sunday in Series 100 deer permit areas, which cover all of the Northeast Zone and part of the Northwest Zone for wolf hunting.
A later hunting and trapping season, with 2,400 licenses available, opens Nov. 24 and continues through Jan. 31.