Wolf expert trapper, shooter, advocate, manager Carter Niemeyer writes special essay for this blog-
How many wolves will hunters kill in Idaho in the upcoming wolf season?
Copyright © Carter Niemeyer
We can all speculate on the number of wolves that hunters may kill if a wolf hunting season happens in Idaho, but the outcome will depend on a number of variables that are hard to predict. The quota for the state of Idaho is 220 wolves (I am not going to address the Tribal quota of an additional 35 wolves). I think that the full quota could be reached quickly if hunters start killing wolves early in the season with no consideration of age or size. Hunters who want to even the score for all of the elk that have been killed by wolves will probably be satisfied to kill any wolf they see. On the other hand, a real sportsman may wait until November when the the wolf pups have grown and all of the wolves have thick, prime winter pelts. Finding large, adult wolves that present themselves as easy targets will be a difficult task.
I predict that most wolves killed early in the season will be taken by hunters who have purchased a wolf tag and opportunistically encounter a wolf while hunting for other big game species. Many hunters report seeing wolves while on a deer or elk stand or bugling or cow-calling for elk. Hunters will be pre-positioned in a tree stand or other camouflaged situation and a wolf or wolves, hunting for their next meal, will come upon the hunter and be shot. I think this is how most of the wolves that are taken legally will die. Wolves’ encounters with people are often at very close range. With 10,000 or more hunters in the field carrying wolf tags the 220 quota could be attained in this manner. On the other hand, if hunters are more particular about the size and quality of wolf they want to kill, they may postpone killing one until they actually can kill a trophy. Wolf hunters are going to have to be very stealthy and surprise a wolf pack or they aren’t going to see them. Wolves, with their wary nature and keen senses, have the advantage over people.
Wolves are going to need time to adjust to hunters in the field. I suspect that the longer wolves survive during big game hunting season, the longer they will survive overall. Like other wild animals wolves will quickly adapt to avoiding hunters and move into remote locations the same way elk and deer do when constantly harassed, not just because they are being pursued, but because their prey is moving further into the hills. Hunters will get lazy and when they can’t pursue big game along roads and trails their success killing wolves will likewise decrease. The severity of winter will also play an important role in forcing big game to lower elevations, which will also create a situation where it might be easier to kill a wolf.
I have followed wolf packs with radio-collars using telemetry and very seldom see the wolves except in the summer when they are protecting pups. When the pups grow large enough to travel with the adult wolves the entire pack seems to be able to make themselves invisible especially if they sense a person is nearby.
Another advantage for wolves will be Idaho’s quota system. When a wolf quota is reached in a particular hunting unit the area is then closed to further wolf hunting. Hunters normally hunt in areas familiar to them or close to home and when the wolf quota in their area is filled they will be forced to travel greater distances to hunt wolves, perhaps to areas they’re not familiar with, or they may decide not to hunt them at all.
When I think of the terrain in many of the hunting units open to wolf hunting I think many hunters are going to be out of luck killing a wolf unless they are willing to walk extensively. While some wolves will be shot from an ATV, motorbike or other vehicle I think the opportunity will be short-lived when wolves realize they are the target. Obviously, several wolves will be easily killed in the opening days of wolf season but I think the number will drop off quickly. Public road closures will diminish road hunting opportunities as will snow fall.
I don’t know how soon wolves will wise up that they are being hunted, but I suspect they will learn quickly. I know that adult wolves, including the breeding pair and individuals that are two years or older will be tough to kill after they adjust to the fact that hunters are out to get them. I fully expect that most wolves coming through the Fish and Game check stations are going to be pups and yearlings simply because they lack basic survival skills only acquired through dangerous life experiences. Many hunters will be disappointed in these specimens if they were going for trophy wolves, but those who are filled with anger and animosity toward wolves probably won’t care what they shoot.
The bottom line is that hunters in Idaho probably will kill a lot of wolves simply because of the sheer number of hunters out there and the chance encounters they will have with wolves. Idaho has a lot more roads than Alaska, so I don’t think you can compare the two. The young, inexperienced wolves are going to perish first while the surviving wolves have a chance to adapt to hunters tactics and avoid people. Only a tally of dead wolves at the end of hunting season will give us a picture of the mortality that hunters will inflict and what age groups are most vulnerable and whether 220 was too low or too high.
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Ed. note: Carter Niemeyer managed the Idaho wolf population for the federal government until Idaho took over management. During that time the wolf population grow, but livestock losses grew less than proportionately. Few people have had as much field experience with wolves as Niemeyer. I am very pleased he took time to write this essay for the Wildlife News.