- Associated Press - Friday, November 28, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Hunters are four wolves shy of reaching Wisconsin’s statewide kill limit, raising doubts about whether anyone will be allowed to use dogs to hunt wolves once the gun season ends.

The 2012 Republican-authored law that created Wisconsin’s wolf hunt allows hunters to use dogs to trail and corner wolves on the day after the end of the nine-day gun deer season. That season wraps up Sunday, which means hunters could start deploying their dogs beginning Monday.

But Department of Natural Resources tallies show hunters had killed 146 wolves as of Friday, just four animals short of the 150-wolf statewide limit.

The season will end as soon as they hit that limit or on the last day of February, whichever comes first. If hunters get the last four wolves before Monday, no one will be able to hunt them with dogs and one of the most divisive components of Wisconsin’s wolf hunt would fade away until next year.

Hunters aren’t allowed to let their dogs kill wolves - they can use dogs only to trail and corral them and must use a gun, crossbow or bow and arrow to actually make the kill - but animal rights advocates contend letting dogs chase wolves can lead to bloody confrontations because wolves will turn and fight rather than flee.

A coalition of humane societies tried to sue the DNR in 2012 to force the agency to impose tighter regulations on dog use but the effort failed. The DNR did examine 27 of the 35 wolves killed by hunters using dogs last year and didn’t find any evidence of fights or other illegal practices, but the evaluation was inconclusive since the wolf carcasses had already been skinned when the agency examined them.

Melissa Smith, organizer of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf, a wolf advocacy group, likened using dogs on wolves to state-sanctioned dog fighting. She said the season ending before hunters could let their hounds out would be a good thing for dogs but doesn’t really help wolves since the DNR allowed hunters and trappers to kill 150 of them.

“One-hundred-and-fifty wolves is too many for this year’s quota. Period,” she said.

The DNR estimates the state’s wolf population at somewhere between 660 to 689 animals, down from 809 to 824 animals in 2012-2013, when the agency set the kill limit at 251. The agency wants to eventually reduce the population to 350 animals.

Jodi Habush Sinykin, an attorney for the humane societies coalition, didn’t immediately return email and voicemail messages Friday. Al Lobner, president of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, a key advocate for hunting wolves with dogs, didn’t immediately return a telephone message.

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