The state's first wolf season will be 25 days longer than previously announced and baiting will be allowed -- but deer hunters hoping to bag the iconic predator still will find it a long shot.
Only a fraction of the 200,000 deer hunters in the wolf range will get one of the limited number of wolf hunting licenses, and at best they will have just a 5 percent success rate.
By comparison, firearm deer hunters have about a 33 percent success rate.
Still, Department of Natural Resources officials don't expect those slim odds to deter deer hunters from snapping up the 3,600 wolf licenses available in the first of two hunts, which will be distributed in a lottery.
"I'm confident we'll get that,'' said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife programs manager.
DNR officials released details of the new wolf hunting and trapping season on Thursday. Besides extending the season, hunters will have to register their kills the same day and the state will be broken into three hunting zones.
But a 400-wolf harvest quota is unchanged and will be split evenly in two seasons -- the early one that coincides with deer hunting and a late season starting Nov. 24.
That means the 200,000 deer hunters must divvy up 200 wolves.
The second wolf season, which also allows trapping, begins after the deer season, and 2,400 licenses will be available, including a minimum of 600 for trappers. That season had been set to close Jan. 6, but is now extended to Jan. 31.
"We had a significant number of people who wanted to extend the season, and there was no biological issues for not extending it,'' said Merchant.
A bigger change is that the area where wolves can be hunted is divided into three zones instead of two, each with harvest targets. The DNR will close zones if the quotas are reached.
The northeast and east-central zones parallel the 1854 and 1837 treaty territory boundaries with Chippewa bands, who have off-reservation hunting rights.
"This allows us to work with tribal interests in allocating and managing the wolf harvest,'' Merchant said.
Target harvests are 265 in the northwest zone, 117 in the northeast and 18 in the east-central.
Most bands oppose hunting wolves, and some plan to prohibit hunting them on tribal lands. But if bands decide to harvest some wolves, that could force the DNR to reduce non-band harvest quotas.
"We just need to be prepared,'' said Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife division director.
In another change, hunters now will have to register their wolves by 10 p.m. on the day of harvest; previously, hunters had until the following day to register their kills.
Baiting wolves will be allowed because there is no state law prohibiting it, officials said. But the DNR may seek some restrictions at the Legislature.
Officials said they tweaked the final regulations because of public input.
The DNR took public comments during a monthlong online survey, in which 79 percent of respondents opposed a wolf hunting and trapping season. But officials released details of that survey Thursday, which showed that about 3,000 -- or 42 percent -- of the responses came from people living outside Minnesota.
People from 42 states, the District of Columbia and some foreign counties took the survey, which was open to anyone. The top five states to respond, behind Minnesota, were Illinois (690), Ohio (435), Wisconsin (342), Michigan (311), and Indiana (207).
Also, anti-wolf-hunting groups accounted for about 2,000 responses, including 1,747 that came through howlingforwolves.org, a group that has campaigned against the hunt.
DNR officials said the survey wasn't a scientific poll, nor was it to be used to decide whether to hold a wolf hunt, because the Legislature had already mandated that.
Officials estimate the state's wolf population at about 3,000, and although the wolf hunt has been controversial, wildlife biologists say killing 400 wolves won't harm the population. Wolves tend to fill voids left when other wolves die or are killed.
"We don't expect any change in the population with this level of harvest pressure,'' said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist.
Find details of the fall wolf season at www.startribune.com/a1402.
Doug Smith • 612-673-7667