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50 wolves taken during opening weekend

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TOWER, Minn. (AP) — Hunters killed at least 50 wolves during the opening weekend of Minnesota's first managed wolf hunt, the Department of Natural Resources said.

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The region's wolves were taken off the endangered list last January. Minnesota has set a quota of 400 wolves for the season, including the early hunting-only season and a hunting-and-trapping season that begins Nov. 24.

Before Saturday's opener, the DNR predicted hunters would take about 70 wolves in the early season, just a 2 percent success rate for the 3,600 hunters who had early-season licenses.

That estimate could still be close, said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR's wildlife research manager, even though hunters killed nearly half that number on the first day. That's because fewer hunters are likely to be in the woods for the remainder of the season.

"Half of our annual deer harvest comes in the first two days of the season, because most people only hunt two or three days," he told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/SnxQJ8 ).

Wolf hunters will most likely follow that same pattern, Cornicelli said so "it would be logical to presume that the bulk of the wolf harvest would come on opening day of the deer season."

The DNR divided Minnesota's wolf territory into three hunting zones. Hunters took eight of the target of nine wolves in the east-central zone, so that will close Monday night. The northeast and northwest zones remain will open unless their target harvests are reached.

The hunt has been divisive. Howling for Wolves and the Northwoods Wolf Alliance protested in Duluth and on the Fond du Lac reservation near Cloquet over the weekend. Two other groups are planning to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in hopes of restoring wolves to the endangered list.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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