PINEDALE – After years of court struggles and impassioned opinions coming from each side of the wolf debate, hunting opened throughout the state on Monday only a month after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the Wyoming gray wolf.
Now only one number, 52, really matters for hunters, as this is how many wolves can be killed this fall in the trophy game management area. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) sold 2,909 wolf tags (all but 90 to residents), including 286 to hunters in Sublette County, as of Wednesday. Park County bought the most licenses, with 798.
As of Thursday at 9 a.m., six wolves have been taken in five different hunt areas. No wolves have been taken from any Sublette County hunt areas, which allow for a combined 11 wolves.
Many local hunters and outfitters purchased tags and told the Roundup they’re ready for what could be a short-lived hunt, with court cases looming for Nov. 1.
“I’ve got one myself, just because … I’m afraid that it might not last,” Paul Crittenden, owner of Bondurant-based Sleeping Indian Outfitters, said. “They might find a judge to shut it down.”
Like many outfitters or hunters, Crittenden is afield quite often, and not having a wolf tag would preclude him from taking a wolf if the opportunity arose. He will focus on Sublette County hunt areas – 10, 11 and 12 – particularly in the northern portion of the county.
Crittenden will be guiding hunters on trips with wolves as a target, in addition to his personal wolf hunting. He said, while the wolf pursuit isn’t “popular yet” as a business venture, it’s still something the company plans to try.
Boulder resident Scott Rogers offered similar reasons for his wolf tag. Rogers has tags for other animals, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be on the lookout for wolves, especially considering the rarity of the occasion.
“I’m actually looking for deer, but a wolf is surely on the priority list,” he said. “This is an opportunity – with the laws, the courts and all the lawsuits coming around – we may not have again.”
Thomson Outfitters Owner Todd Stevie hunted wolves in 2008 during the brief period the state took over management. He has tags again for this season, and although he works as an outfitter, he plans to hunt them on a personal level, too.
“I sure want to do my part to control the population if the opportunity presents itself,” he said.
Like Crittenden, Stevie will also lead hunts, mostly in Hunt Area 11, the eastern portion of the county in the Wind River Mountain Range, as well as in the predator zone. He said there has not been “an overabundance” of interest, but a few hunters have expressed the desire to hunt wolves.
Other outfitters in the area are not offering wolf hunts. Terry Pollard, owner of Bald Mountain Outfitters, said he has no plans to take clients into the wilderness looking for wolves this season but may do so in the future.
Fear and loathing toward wolves is as old as America, but most local hunters seconded Stevie’s practical approach to the wolf hunt.
“It’s not a killing thing, I hate this animal thing; it’s an all animals need to be managed thing,” Rogers said. “I think it’s purely a management deal. They all need to be managed like everything else.”
Rogers also mentioned the “nostalgia” of the wolf hunt, which many publications have reported. Pinedale resident and hunter Cody Johler focused on this aspect, along with support of the WGFD, as the reasons for his purchase.
“I think the main reason I got the wolf tag was it was easy to get because it was only $18. … That $18 went toward supporting the Game and Fish management program for the wolves. This was the first year we’ve really had to do any management of the wolves as far as hunting and everything,” he said, later adding, “I would say certainly since this is the first year we’ve been allowed to hunt wolves [that] it was kind of a novelty thing to get one of the wolf tags.”
The WGFD has similar hunting procedures in place as with other predator species. Hunters must call a 24-hour hotline before heading out to ensure the quota for the hunt area they plan to use has not been filled. Also, outfitters must update their information to include wolves.
If a hunter is successful, the kill must be reported within 24 hours. For wolves taken in the predator zone, where they can be killed on sight and by any means, hunters have 10 days to report the casualty.
As difficult as all the protocols that must be followed, most hunters say successfully shooting a wolf is even more of a challenge; the rare animal is seldom seen in the wild, and only somewhere between 200 and 300 animals exist in Wyoming.
Stevie, who has hunted wolves before, said the hunt presents a tough test.
“They’re going to be really, really hard to hunt,” he said. “They’re smart. Most of the wolves around here have the feds – when they get into livestock, the feds hunt them – so they’re used to being hunted.”
Crittenden has seen wolves near his Bondurant property, but he said, having never hunted wolves before, “we don’t know what it’s going to entail.”
Most other hunters are in the same boat. Neither Johler nor Rogers has hunted wolves, but both recognize the issues.
“I would imagine it’d be very difficult. I’ve been trying to take pictures of them for a year now, and I haven’t been able to do it,” Johler said.
Johler was the only hunter who told the Roundup he has no real interest in killing a wolf or calling ahead to check the quota.
“It was mostly for support; I really have no intention of shooting a wolf,” he said. “I probably would really not even shoot a wolf if it walked right in front of me.”
Rogers has not formally hunted wolves, but he’s had some close experiences. While hunting deer in the Gros Ventre Wilderness, he and a hunting partner heard wolves howl and briefly saw them from less than 100 yards last year.
“You can look back through history and talk to older people … I think wolves are probably going to be the hardest animal to hunt. They’re smart,” he said, adding the wolves are crafty and will quickly learn to avoid gunshots and hunters.
And unlike Johler, most hunters didn’t flinch when asked if, with wolf tag in hand, call made to the WGFD and out hunting another animal species, there would be any hesitation if a wolf walked across their path.
“None, none,” Rogers said.