Outdoor new

Bear hunters realize some success in 2013

Winter den surveys reflect abundance of natural foods
By Staff | Jul 10, 2014

Augusta — More than 10,888 hunters purchased a permit to hunt bear in Maine in 2013 — the most since 2009 — but they harvested 2,845 bears.

That means only 26 percent of bear hunters in Maine were successful this past year.

Hunters can take a bear in Maine using bait, dogs, traps or still-hunting. More than 90 percent of the bears taken by hunters this past season were taken using bait, dogs or traps. An abundance of natural foods last year also kept bears out later in the season, as 81 bears were taken during the deer season in November.

The abundance of natural foods this past year also was reflected in the winter bear den survey work conducted by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This past winter, the average weight of year-old bears (yearlings) measured during the winter den surveys averaged 46.6 pounds. In contrast, in 2012, a poor natural food year, year-old bears only weighed 32.5 pounds on average.

Since 1975, IFW wildlife biologists have visited the dens of radio-collared female black bears in Maine to research and monitor the bear population. Over the course of the season, the bear research crew visited 88 dens this past winter, handling a total of 194 bears in three different study areas across the state. There are now 102 collared female bears throughout the state, including 17 yearlings.

Collaring female bears allows biologists to locate them in their dens during the winter. IFW biologists travel to the dens and gather biological data from the bears that they find, including size, weight, number of cubs and number of yearlings. These data give the department an in-depth view of Maine’s black bear population.

Baiting, the use of dogs and trapping continue to be the most effective methods for hunters. This past year, 2,048 bears were harvested over bait, 479 bears were taken by hound hunters, and 105 bears were taken in traps. Only 7 percent were taken by still-hunters: 81 bears were harvested by deer hunters, and 131 bears were registered by tagging stations but did not record the method used to take a bear.

Due to the quantity of natural foods available, bears entered their dens later, providing hunters with opportunity late into the season (12 percent taken in October and November), and fewer bears were taken by bait hunters (72 percent) than the past five-year average (79 percent). As usual, most bears (87 percent) were harvested earlier in the season with 2,486 bears harvested before the end of September.

The 2013 bear hunting season was different than in 2012, which was a poor year for natural foods for Maine’s black bears. As a result, in 2012, more bears were taken by bait hunters (81 percent), and fewer bears (6 percent) were harvested in October and November since bears entered dens earlier. In years when natural foods are not readily available during the fall, a bear can actually burn more calories than it consumes while foraging for food. So in lean food years, bears will den early. The abundance of natural foods varies from year to year and is generally high one year and low the next.

Due to the thriving bear population that is estimated at more than 30,000, Maine has a lengthy bear season with many opportunities for hunters. The general hunting season for black bears opened Aug. 26 and closed Nov. 30. Hunters were allowed to hunt bears near natural food sources or by still-hunting throughout the entire three-month season.

Hunting over bait was permitted from Aug. 26 through Sept. 21. The hound season overlapped the bait season, opening Sept. 9 and closing Nov. 1. The bear trapping season opened Sept. 1 and closed Oct. 31.

For the first time, bears were harvested throughout the state in all 29 Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) in the state. The density of harvest expressed as the number of bears killed per 100 square miles of habitat (forested land) was greatest in WMD 3 (northeastern Aroostook County) and WMD 28 at 22 bears per 100 square miles (central Hancock and Washington counties) and lowest in WMDs 22-24 and 29 (southern and central Maine ) with only one or two bears harvested per 100 square miles. Males made up 56 percent (1,600 bears) of the 2013 harvest.

Despite a long fall hunting season for bears in Maine, the bear harvest has been below objectives since 2005. Bait, hounds and traps are the most effective for harvesting bears in Maine’s dense forest and accounts for 93 percent of the harvest. Even with these three methods, only about one in four hunters using bait, hounds and traps are successful. Still-hunters harvest less than 300 bears (7 percent), since it is difficult to spot and stalk bears in Maine’s thick vegetation.

To stabilize the bear population estimated at more than 30,000, a harvest of 4,500 bears is needed. Without bait, hounds or traps, Maine’s bear harvest will be well below objectives.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.

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