1. Wildlife managers often rely on resource users, such as recreational or commercial hunters, to achieve management goals. The use of hunters to control wildlife populations is especially common for predators and ungulates, but managers cannot assume that hunters will always fill annual quotas set by the authorities. It has been advocated that resource management models should account for uncertainty in how harvest rules are realized, requiring that this implementation uncertainty be estimated.
2. We used a survival analysis framework and long-term harvest data from large carnivore management systems in three countries (Estonia, Latvia and Norway) involving four species (brown bear, grey wolf, Eurasian lynx and wolverine) to estimate the performance of hunters with respect to harvest goals set by managers.
3. Variation in hunter quota-filling performance was substantial, ranging from 40% for wolverine in Norway to nearly 100% for lynx in Latvia. Seasonal and regional variation was also high within country–species pairs. We detected a positive relationship between the instantaneous potential to fill a quota slot and the relative availability of the target species for both wolverine and lynx in Norway.
4. Survivor curves and hazards – with survival time measured as the time from the start of a season until a quota slot is filled – can indicate the extent to which managers can influence harvest through adjustments of season duration and quota limits.
5. Synthesis and applications. We investigated seven systems where authorities use recreational hunting to manage large carnivore populations. The variation and magnitude of deviation from harvest goals was substantial, underlining the need to incorporate implementation uncertainty into resource management models and decisions-making. We illustrate how survival analysis can be used by managers to estimate the performance of resource users with respect to achieving harvest goals set by managers. The findings in this study come at an opportune time given the growing popularity of management strategy evaluation (MSE) models in fisheries and a push towards incorporating MSE into terrestrial harvest management.