The first of Minnesota's two wolf hunting seasons, which ran Nov. 3-Nov. 18, was a success, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The state's first regulated wolf hunt resulted in 147 wolves taken out of a possible 200, with two of the three hunting zones achieving their alloted limits. The DNR also sold all of the 3,600 permits offered by lottery for the hunt, and had 12,500 applicants. The lottery application fee was $4 and a wolf license was $30.
"It seemed to go pretty well based on the number of licenses that we had and the number of wolves taken," DNR wolf management specialist Dan Stark said. "We've seen a higher success rate for hunting of wolves than what's been observed in other [states], and all the reporting requirements that hunters had and our monitoring went pretty well."
Those pursuing wolf were mostly deer hunters who had a wolf license, Stark said. There were around 200,000 deer hunters in the areas open for wolf hunting.
“So most were deer hunters hunting opportunistically," he said, but some hunters "were pursuing wolves more directly – predator-style hunting."
Since the wolf season was during the firearms deer season, most wolf hunters used rifles. But all legal weapons were permitted.
"It was a wolf hunting season so you could use other legal methods during that time," said Stark, who added the hunt was held for management purposes.
"Basically to manage wolves like we do with other game populations in the state – and the wolf population can sustain a hunting and trapping season," he said. "That's our role and responsibility for wildlife management.
"We don't have a population management objective. We're just trying to identify what might be a sustainable level of take, and allow trapping and hunting of wolves."
The state was conservative on the number of licenses and the quota this season.
"We started out using a relatively cautious approach based on the population info we have," Stark said. "We're going to be evaluating that each year and making adjustments to it."
The wolf season almost didn't happen – many times. Wolves were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974, and at the time Minnesota had the only wolf population in the lower 48 states with the exception of Isle Royal on Lake Superior.
Some Minnesota wolves were allowed to be taken because of livestock depredation, but that was it until now. Wolves were removed from ESA listing in 2007, but a series of legal challenges meant the species was back on the endangered list, then off, then on, etc., until January of 2011 when they again were off.
At the time the state legislature had a law on the books that said the state had to wait five years once wolves were removed from the ESA list to develop a wolf season. But that law was changed in summer 2011, and that's when the DNR started thinking about how it might implement a wolf season, Stark said.
"It was a pretty intensive process to put it together this year, but it fell into place and so far has gone pretty smoothly," he said, noting the state holds wolf counts.
"There’s a lot of information on the wolf population status. We do periodic surveys to estimate the wolf population and annual monitoring to measure the trends occurring with the population, so it's not like we were lacking information on the wolf population status,” he said. “And there's been a lot of information published about sustainable rates of wolf harvest that won't have a negative influence on the population."
The state's second wolf season runs Nov. 24 to Jan. 31, and the DNR has sold its limit of 2,400 licenses, split between hunting and trapping. The statewide both-season quota is 400 animals.
Stark anticipates more predator-style hunting in the later wolf season, but said that based on the success rate so far, "you can see that the odds are pretty low that people will see a wolf or have the opportunity to take a wolf."