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Montana wolves are in hunters' crosshairs beginning today

September 15, 2009 | 12:20 pm

The first-ever wolf hunting season begins today in Montana, opening in four back-country areas popular with elk and deer hunters.

The hunt will start on a wider scale Oct. 25, in conjunction with the general big-game rifle season.

Caroline Sime, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department wolf coordinator, told the Great Falls Tribune that while there will be hunters specifically targeting wolves, many will probably be shot opportunistically by elk and deer hunters.

"They do have the potential to see wolves because wolves and human hunters are both looking for the elk," she said.

Joining Idaho, Montana is one of the first of the lower 48 states to legally participate in gray wolf hunts since the animals were removed from the endangered list last May throughout much of the Northern Rockies. The Idaho season opened Sept. 1.

Thus far, more than 8,500 Montana wolf hunting licenses have been issued. Sales may increase now that a Montana federal court denied a preliminary injunction requested by Defenders of Wildlife and other plaintiffs that had sued to halt the hunts and challenge the delisting.

The statewide quota of 75, if met, would total 15% of Montana's lupine population.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Silhouetted wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Joel Sartore/National Geographic/Getty Images