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Trappers accounted for 83 percent of the 173 gray wolves tagged during the first two weeks of Wisconsin's 2013 wolf season. / Patrick Durkin/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Trappers accounted for 83 percent of the 173 gray wolves tagged during the first two weeks of Wisconsin's 2013 wolf season. / Patrick Durkin/Press-Gazette Media correspondent

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Hunters who are hoping to use hounds to trail wolves might not get their chance this fall because the 2013 wolf season could close statewide before hounds can join the hunt Dec. 2.

As of Wednesday ó two weeks into the 2013 wolf hunting/trapping season that opened Oct. 15 ó the wolf kill was 178, or 71 percent of the 251-wolf statewide quota. By 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Natural Resources had closed three of Wisconsinís six wolf hunting/trapping zones.

By filling 71 percent of the quota in 14 days, hunters and trappers more than doubled the harvest pace of last yearís inaugural wolf season. In 2012, they killed 41 wolves the first two weeks, or 35 percent of the 116-wolf quota.

Likewise, individual success rates more than doubled, with 9.8 percent (178) of the 1,818 licensed hunters/trappers tagging a wolf. A year ago, 4.5 percent (41) of 892 license buyers tagged wolves the first 14 days.

The DNR didnít need to close any wolf zones in 2012 until Nov. 16, when it shut down zones 2 and 4. This year it closed Zone 2 (Northeastern Wisconsin) on Oct. 23 when the kill reached 29, one wolf over Zone 2ís quota.

More on wolves in Wisconsin: Wolf hunting news from around the state | Trail cameras capture wolf activity

The DNR also announced Tuesday it was closing Zone 1 in northwestern Wisconsin and Zone 5 in west-central Wisconsin at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The wolf quotas are 76 in Zone 1 and 34 in Zone 5, with a kill of 76 in Zone 1 and 33 in Zone 5 as Wednesday night.

In 2012, Zone 1 didnít close until Dec. 2, which allowed tag-holders to hunt/trap nearly five weeks more than this year, including the nine-day firearms deer season. Zone 5 didnít close until Dec. 12 in 2012, six weeks beyond this yearís season.

The 2013 wolf season also got off to fast starts in zones 4 and 6, with more than two-thirds of the wolf quota filled by Wednesday. Eight of the 12-wolf quota was reached in Zone 4, which serpentines from eastern Lincoln to eastern Oconto County. Meanwhile, 22 of the 30-wolf quota was reached in Zone 6, which covers all of Wisconsin not in the other five wolf zones.

Zone 3 was the only area starting slowly, with 10 kills in its 71-wolf quota. This zone, which is shaped like a face-down question mark, extends from the state border in Burnett County to the eastern edge of Taylor County.

Zone 3 also started slowly in 2012, but the pace picked up after zones 5 and 6 closed Dec. 12 and 14. The DNR shut it down Dec. 23, with hunters/trappers one wolf shy of the zoneís 19-wolf quota.

If zones 4 and 6 close this week or next, itís tough to predict how many license holders will switch locations. Zone 3 holds extensive state and federal lands, but also far more roads than public properties in Zone 1. Therefore, even if Zone 3 remains open when hound-trailing begins Dec. 2, the region doesnít offer as much unbroken forest for running hounds.

Why is the 2013 wolf season off to this blazing start? Itís mostly because trappers rushed to make their sets this year. Of the 178 wolves tagged the first two weeks, 31 (17 percent) were shot with rifles, and 147 (83 percent) were taken by trap. In contrast, of the 41 wolves killed the first two weeks in 2012, 16 (39 percent) were shot and 25 (61 percent) were trapped.

Dave MacFarland, the DNRís wolf ecologist, said several factors likely spurred the fast start. Many hunters and trappers waited until late autumn to start in 2012, hoping to get wolves with prime winter pelts. Many waited too long, however, and the season closed without them. This yearís license buyers took the hint.

Further, the application deadline for wolf licenses didnít end until late August in 2012, and successful applicants werenít notified until about Sept. 10. This year, applications ended Aug. 1 and successful applicants were notified within days. That provided an extra month to scout, zero in on areas with wolf problems, and contact landowners who made compensation claims for wolf depredations.

Further, landowners filing for compensation for wolf damage must let hunters/trappers onto their lands this year. In 2012, the season was approved too late to enact the public-access provision.

MacFarland said some hunters dislike that trappers are taking such a large percentage of the quota. Some already are asking the DNR reallocate the kill more equitably in future years. Current law doesnít give the agency that authority, however. Even minor changes to the licensing structure must come for the Legislature.

Lawmakers wanted maximum control over the wolf season, so be sure to share your ideas with them.

Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for Press-Gazette Media. Email him at patrickdurkin@charter.net.

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