Montana Wolf Hunt
Yellowstone Wolves in Montana Hunt
The fact that Montana hunters killed three Yellowstone wolves during the first week of the state’s fall hunting season made headlines across the country. Those wolves were part of the 27-member Junction Butte wolf pack that roams Yellowstone National Park’s northern range, but ventures outside the park boundaries as well.
The loss of three wolves is not expected to cause long-lasting harm to the park’s wolf population, or even to the Junction Butte pack itself. This pack had four litters of pups in 2020, and raised 18 pups through the end of 2020. Yellowstone’s December 2020 wolf count was the highest park count since 2008 – and was a one-year increase in the park’s wolf population of 31%.
That members of a 27-member wolf pack roaming outside the park (including on private property) may fall prey to humans was not surprising. The Park Service reports that the leading cause of death for wolves in the park is death by other wolves, and the leading cause of death for wolves outside the park is human-caused.
The large size of the Junction Butte pack shows it is well on its way toward being one of the largest packs ever recorded – much like the Druid Peak pack that inhabited the park 20 years ago. The National Park Service has already reported the Junction Butte pack is the third-largest pack ever recorded in North America.
The park’s Druid Peak pack had 37 members back in the early 2000s – and may be the largest wolf pack ever recorded in North America. The pack disintegrated after an outbreak of mange, wolves began killing each other (including three young females that teamed up to kill their sister, the pack’s matriarch) and other pack members starved to death.
Like the Druid Peak pack before it, the Junction Butte pack appears to be going down the same path. Not surprisingly, the Junction Butte wolf pack has already killed one of its own, and pack members have experienced hair thinning and loss, an early indication of mange infection.
Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks has set a statewide harvest threshold of 450 wolves, and since the hunting season opened in early September, 63 wolves have been taken in the state. Check out the wolf harvest dashboard for the most regional harvest information.
For comparison, the Montana wolf season of 2020-2021 resulted in the taking of 327 wolves, from an estimated population of 1,150 wolves.
In August of this year, the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission eliminated wolf hunting quotas, replacing quotas with thresholds for each region. When a threshold is met, the Commission will review.
A harvest of 450 wolves shall initiate a commission review with potential for rapid in-season adjustments to hunting and trapping regulations. Thereafter, the commission shall be similarly re-engaged at intervals of additional 50 wolves harvested, if season adjustments allow for additional wolf harvest. Additionally, the following harvests by any region alone shall initiate a commission review with potential for rapid in-season adjustments to hunting and trapping regulations:
Region 1 – 195 wolves
Region 2 – 116 wolves
Region 3 – 82 wolves
Region 4 – 39 wolves
Region 5 – 11 wolves
Region 6 – 3 wolves
Region 7 – 4 wolves
Hunters are allowed to purchase and possess 10 wolf hunting licenses – a separate license for each wolf they harvest – and trappers are allowed a bag limit of 10 wolves. This means an individual who hunts and traps can take a total of 20 wolves in a license year.