Fritz Meyer was guiding outside of Dubois when Wyoming wolf licenses went on sale in early September. The next day, he bought one. He doesn’t plan on hunting wolves specifically, but if one comes across his path and the quota hasn’t been filled for his area, he’d shoot.
Meyer isn’t the only one.
The state’s first wolf hunting season begins today in northwest Wyoming, and as of Friday afternoon, 2,236 licenses had been sold. Wyoming residents purchased the bulk of the licenses, and Park County residents bought the largest number of any county, said Brian Nesvik, chief of the wildlife division of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Fifty-two wolves can be hunted in this year’s season, which ends Dec. 31. Wolves outside of the trophy management area can now be shot on sight.
Hunters must report a wolf kill in the trophy area within 24 hours. Once the quota is filled, the season closes.
The chances of actually shooting a wolf are akin to winning the lottery, Meyer said.
“If I get a wolf or not I don’t really care. It’s really hard to go hunt one,” he said. “Wolves are very smart and crafty, and they move a lot at night.”
Meyer spends most days in the woods as an outfitter, trapper, hunter and snowmobiler. He finds tracks and other signs, but in the past year, he’s only seen three wolves.
Once people start shooting at wolves, they will become even more elusive, he said.
Most people who bought tags are likely elk, deer or other big game hunters who want the opportunity to shoot a wolf if they see one, Nesvik said.
Elk and deer hunters shot 78 percent of the wolves killed during Montana’s 2009 wolf hunt, according to a survey by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
People also didn’t have time to plan for a Wyoming wolf hunt. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision to remove Wyoming wolves from the endangered species list in late August.
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Some people may have bought tags simply for the novelty of buying a wolf hunting license in Wyoming, Nesvik said.
He can’t predict how many wolves will be killed this fall.
Montana set its first wolf hunt quota at 75 wolves and 72 were killed by the close of the season, according to state’s wildlife department.
At least 10 wolves were killed in less than two weeks in Wyoming’s predator management area when wolves were briefly delisted in April 2008, according to Star-Tribune archives.
Under Wyoming’s wolf management plan, the state will be divided into three sections:
The trophy game area is the northwest corner of the state outside of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, the National Elk Refuge and the Wind River Indian Reservation.
A seasonal trophy area runs south of the regular trophy area along the western border. Wolves are a trophy animal from Oct. 15 to the end of February and a predator the rest of the year.
Wolves are predators in the rest of the state and can be shot on sight. In December, wildlife officials estimated that Wyoming had about 220 to 230 wolves. Another estimate will be made this December.
The state is required to keep a minimum of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Reservation.
Conservation groups filed a letter with the Fish and Wildlife Service when the delisting ruling was published outlining their intent to sue, said Jenny Harbine, an attorney for Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm representing the groups.
The organizations — Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biologic Diversity and the Sierra Club — must wait until early November before going to court to challenge the ruling.