HAMILTON -- Sportsmen's organizations continue to sweeten the pot to encourage hunters to try to bag a wolf before Montana's season ends in February.
So far, the incentives have not made much of a difference.
The Safari Club International's Western Montana Chapter announced recently that it will raffle off the taxidermy of a wolf pelt to successful wolf hunters this year. The prize is worth an estimated $750.
That organization is the third that has offered a prize or a check to hunters bagging a wolf this season.
The Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association started the ball rolling right after the end of hunting season with an announcement that it would raffle a rifle valued at $650 to wolf hunters successful in the southern reaches of the Bitterroot.
The Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife followed with a photo contest that offered $100 to successful wolf hunters and an annual membership for photographs of dead wolves.
All of the groups say the incentives are necessary to encourage hunters to take to the field and learn new techniques needed to bag a wolf.
"The number one reason we decided to do this was to encourage people to get out in the woods and hunt wolves," said Jon Wemple, president of the Safari Club's Western Montana Chapter. "There is not nearly as much activity out there with the general hunting season over."
The Safari Club's contest is limited to its members. The wolf has to have been killed this season. A picture/story has to be provided as proof.
Even with the additional motivation, hunters are not having much luck in areas of the state where wolf quotas have not been met.
In the West Fork of the Bitterroot, hunters have only managed to kill three wolves since the season began in September. None has been shot since the end of the general hunting season.
The West Fork is the only hunting district in the state with its own wolf quota. State wildlife officials set the quota of 18 after sportsmen's concerns that high numbers of predators were causing the elk population there to decline.
Wemple said his organization was encouraged that the state extended the wolf hunting season by six weeks at its December meeting.
"We are finding that they are a real hard animal to hunt," he said. "We are hoping that these incentives will get people out there to learn what works and what doesn't."
Wemple said he spent close to 130 days in the woods this year and never had the opportunity to harvest a wolf.
"They are such wanderers," Wemple said. "You can come onto fresh wolf sign, and, within a couple of hours, that pack can be miles away."
Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association president Tony Jones said this winter's mild weather is probably partly to blame for the lackluster hunting results.
"I've been logging a lot of miles looking for them, and I don't even think I've been close," Jones said. "There is a real learning curve. It certainly isn't easy."
Jones has been running into other hunters in the East Fork of the Bitterroot, but no one is having much success.
With only three wolves harvested in the West Fork, he wonders if the incentives are going to be enough.
"I think it's a good idea to have as many incentives out there as possible if that's what it's going to take to reduce wolf numbers," he said. "When you consider that hunters have a chance to win a wolf rug and a rifle and get $100, that's quite a bit of incentive to get out there."
Jones said someone has been removing signs that group posted at different businesses around the valley.
As of Jan. 2, 128 wolves of the 220 state-wide quota have been taken.
Not everyone is happy about the incentives being offered by the different groups.
"They are nothing more than a private bounty that probably has the blessings of FWP," said Marc Cooke, co-president of the National WolfWatcher Coalition.
Cooke said the efforts are being driven by a group of people who want less competition so their hunting endeavors for elk and deer will be more successful and simpler.
"Prior to the hunt, all you heard was there are wolves here, wolves there, wolves everywhere," Cooke said. "Now you have this hunt, and people can't find wolves. It raises a question for the National Wolf Watcher Coalition."