The wolf hunting and trapping season is over in northwestern Wisconsin.
Zone 1, which includes all of Bayfield and Ashland counties and large portions of Douglas, Sawyer, Price and Iron counties, officially closed at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The zone is closed to the hunting and trapping of gray wolves for the remainder of the 2013 season.
As of Thursday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported 77 wolves taken in Zone 1. The quota for the zone was 76, more than double last year's.
David MacFarland, DNR large carnivore specialist, said a strong harvest was expected in Zone 1, which has a thriving wolf population.
"Zone 1 is one of our core areas," MacFarland said. "From a hunting or trapping perspective, it may be more desirable to hunt and trap than some of our peripheral zones."
The closure of Zone 1 was prompted by a jump in harvest numbers Tuesday. Statewide, Tuesday's harvest was the fourth largest this season, with 16 wolves taken -- nine from Zone 1.
Tom Hauge, DNR wildlife management director, said calls came in steadily Tuesday as hunters and trappers reported their kills. Successful license holders have 24 hours to report a kill.
The DNR tracks harvest totals daily through call-in reporting. Officials act quickly when they see a spike in harvest numbers, but Hauge said they lack the historical data needed to forecast trends.
"It's a little bit like the stock market in that it goes up and down," Hauge said.
The torrid pace of this year's hunt has been surprising.
Just 16 days into Wisconsin's second annual wolf season, half of the state's six harvest zones have closed. Zones 1 and 5 both closed Wednesday. Zone 2 closed Oct. 23 -- eight days after the season opened.
In 2012, the first zone did not close until Nov. 16. Zone 1 remained open into December, along with three other zones.
Statewide, the harvest goal was 116 wolves last season. This year it increased to 251.
"We expected a bigger harvest," Hauge said. "But even with that extra harvest, it's clear that the pace is progressing faster than last year."
MacFarland said he believes the faster pace is due to a change in hunter behavior. He points to a shift in the ratio of hunters to trappers as a possible explanation.
Almost 83 percent of the wolves taken this season have been trapped. Last year, trapping accounted for 52 percent of the harvest, according to the DNR.
Trapping wolves was a new experience in 2012, but this year, Hauge thinks trappers have become more savvy.
"It's possible that in the course of a year, those lessons learned were shared with the wider community," Hauge said.
Another possible factor is the increase in hunters and trappers in the woods early.
Through Thursday, the DNR reported license sales at 1,809 for residents and 11 for nonresidents.
By the third week of the 2012 season, the DNR had sold 825 resident licenses and six nonresident licenses.
"It's going to be a while before we can confidently say what the causes are," Hauge said. The DNR will send a questionnaire to wolf license recipients at the end of the season to gather more information.
The wolf season remains open in Zones 3, 4 and 6, but hunters and trappers are advised to verify a zone's status daily. Notice of closures is posted online at dnr.wi.gov and announced on the wolf call-in number, 1-855-299-9653.
Zone 3 continues to see minimal harvest numbers as the season enters its third week. Through Wednesday, only 10 wolves were reported for the zone. The quota for Zone 3 is set at 71 wolves.
"We really don't know why things are lagging there, other than the selectivity of trappers and hunters for their preferred zone," MacFarland said.
Zones 4 and 6 are nearing their quotas. With numbers reported through Wednesday, Zone 6 was six away from its quota of 30. Zone 4, with a quota of 12, reported eight wolves harvested.
Wolf Harvest by Zone
Zone 1 (Closed) 76 77
Zone 2 (Closed) 28 29
Zone 3 71 10
Zone 4 12 8
Zone 5 (Closed) 34 33
Zone 6 30 24
Total: 251 181
Wolf Harvest by County
Eau Claire 2