Hunters through the second weekend of the rifle season for wolves bagged 44 of the large predators throughout the state.
By Monday, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks had checked 44 wolves in the 14 districts statewide. Biologists said that signifies a steady kill with roughly four weeks of deer and elk hunting and two full months of the wolf season remaining.
"Having 44 wolves killed at this point in the season and the sharp increase of harvest we had at the start of the rifle season is encouraging," said Mike Thompson, FWP Region 2 wildlife manager in Missoula.
The wolf hunt began for archery and for the early backcountry rifle hunters in early September. By the Oct. 22 start of the statewide deer and elk rifle season, hunters had killed 11 wolves throughout the state.
But the bulk of the wolf harvest in the state's second season for wolves was expected to come during the deer and elk season, when many more hunters take to the field. Montana held its first ever wolf hunt in 2009, when hunters took 73 wolves before it was shut down. Thompson said thus far the wolves killed have been well distributed throughout the state.
There are, however, a few spots where the wolf hunt has been slow. Those include the West Fork of the Bitterroot River area, where biologists want to reduce wolf numbers to help the struggling elk herd and set a quota of 18 wolves. Hunters have only killed two there so far.
In the lower Clark Fork district 200, which has a quota of 22 wolves, only one has been taken. And in the district that encompasses the Big Hole Valley and most of Granite and Deer Lodge counties, wolf unit 210, hunters have killed three wolves from the quota of 36.
"That's progress," Thompson said. "But in the Missoula area and in the Bitterroot in particular, we need a lot more harvest and we're hoping for that to pick up."
Thompson added that biologist have heard from hunters who have seen wolves, yet didn't have a license for them. They're also hearing from hunters who actively pursued wolves, rather than just buying the tag to have while chasing deer or elk.
"People are interested and going through the effort to hunt wolves and succeeding -- that marks a change from 2009," he said. "
In northwest Montana's Region 1, hunters have killed 17 wolves. John Fraley, FWP regional spokesman, said the mild weather of the first nine days of the season made wolf hunting tough.
"People are seeing a lot of wolf sign now that we're getting some snow in the high country," he said. "We expect that the harvest will pick up."
And in Region 3 covering southwestern Montana, the mild weather has also accounted for a slow hunt, said Howard Burt, FWP regional wildlife manager. He said sightings have been scarce, although there were some sightings.
"They're a little cagier than people think," he said of wolves.
Hunters have yet to kill any wolves in district 320, which includes the Highland Mountains south of Butte.
Thompson said he is confident the first 100 wolves will be killed, but after that he's less certain. He said he's confident that as the hunt goes on, hunters' attitudes toward wolves will change.
"I don't hear much about hunters being very happy with wolves until they get one and then they're pretty darn happy just like they are when they get a deer or an elk," he said. "In the long run, Montana's going to have an additional hunting tradition that we didn't have before."