LANSING - With less than a week left until the end of Michigan's first wolf hunt in decades, hunters had killed fewer than half the maximum 43 allowed.
Frigid weather in parts of the Upper Peninsula likely has kept the hunt in check. Another factor might be that trapping isn't allowed as it is in some other states with regulated wolf hunts.
As of Thursday morning, 21 wolves had been killed in the U.P., according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The hunt that began Nov. 15 will end Wednesday.
This file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a gray wolf. Michigan’s first wolf hunt in four decades is falling short of the kill expectations, state wildlife officials said Thursday. The hunt runs through year’s end, making it unlikely that the take will reach the quota of 43. (AP photo)
Travis Smith, a 33-year-old teacher from Marquette, said he saw a wolf on the opening morning of the hunt. He didn't feel comfortable taking a shot with a hazy view, though, and has since seen no wolves despite going out about seven more times in Unit B - one of three designated hunting zones.
He's reached out to experts in Montana and Canada for tips and has done some baiting and calling of wolves.
"We have a topline predator that has very keen senses," Smith said. "It's not an animal you're going to be very successful trying to outwit. Due to their nature, they pose quite a challenge."
He hopes state officials will consider allowing trapping in addition to hunting next year.
When the Michigan Natural Resources Commission first approved the hunt in May, it allowed foothold traps. But when the panel OK'd the hunt again in July to circumvent a referendum on the law that made wolves a game species, it no longer included trapping.
The DNR has said the primary reason for deciding against trapping was to start conservatively and use the hunt as a wolf management tool, while an opponent of the hunt has said the move was to make it more palatable to the public. Activists also are circulating petitions for a vote on a second wolf-hunting law, and pro-hunting groups plan to collect signatures for a measure protecting the ability to have future wolf hunts.
DNR spokesman Ed Golder said Thursday there's no discussion right now of recommending wolf trapping.
He described the wolf hunt to date as "fairly modest and measured" and said officials will evaluate the success rate, hunters' efforts and the timing of the season after analyzing data from the hunt.
In Wisconsin, which allows trapping, wolf hunters and trappers harvested 257 wolves this year, six more than the 251-wolf limit. Its hunt ended Monday and would have gone through the end of February if hunters hadn't reached their statewide limit.
The take in Michigan's wolf hunt remained at 20 for roughly 2 1/2 weeks, until Wednesday.
"It was cold and snowy. There may have come a point where hunters were not out," Golder said. "We'll see if the timing of the hunt is right given weather patterns."
Five of the maximum 16 wolves were killed in the far western U.P., 13 of 19 in four central counties and three of eight in the eastern U.P. Before the season, the DNR estimated that Michigan had 658 wolves.
Michigan is the sixth state to authorize wolf hunting following the removal of federal protections in recent years. All 1,200 licenses for the hunt were sold.
Despite not getting a wolf, Smith said he enjoyed the hunt and saw portions of the U.P. he had never visited before.
"I met some people in Unit B I would not have met otherwise," he said.