Maine’s bear season began Monday, and hunters who are heading afield won’t just be matching wits with the animals this year. They’ll also be dueling with Mother Nature as they try to fill their tags.
According to a state bear biologist, luring bears into bait will likely be more difficult this fall for a simple reason: There’s so much natural food in the woods, bears will have plenty of choices as they make their way through the buffet line.
“This year is, perhaps, the strongest natural food year for bears that we have seen for quite a while,” biologist Randy Cross of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said in a recent email.
That’s bad news for hunters.
Cross leads the field crew on the state’s long-term bear research project, and spends the spring and early summer capturing bears to “recruit” new animals for the project. Female bears are fitted with radio collars that allow biologists to visit their dens during the winter months, check their health and see how many cubs they’ve produced.
“After we have weighed the yearlings in their dens next winter, we will be able to compare [this year] more accurately to other superfood years like 1996 and 2006,” Cross wrote. “But just from looking around at nature’s bounty, it looks pretty outstanding to me.”
Cross explained that when bears can find the natural foods they crave in abundance, they are less likely to visit bait sites, which despite a hunter’s best efforts, are recognized as non-natural and associated with humans by the bears.
So, what are the bears eating this summer?
“Hazelnuts and beechnuts are both going to influence bear behavior and movement this fall,” Cross wrote. “Apples are also super-abundant in the portions of the state that have apple trees. Of the dozen or so foods that most profoundly impact bears from late summer through fall, most are either abundant or moderately abundant.”
There is a silver lining for hunters though, Cross wrote.
With so much food on the landscape, the animals will not be eager to head to their dens for the winter. During years when food is not available, bears will den early and be unavailable for late-season hunters.
“This year, bears should be active through October for dog hunters and trappers to pursue, as well as in November for deer hunters,” Cross wrote.
According to the DIF&W, a year ago 11,345 hunters purchased a permit that allowed them to hunt bears. Of those, about 30 percent of bear hunters successfully fill their tags, the department said.
Bear season consist of three segments in Maine. Hunters are allowed to use bait from Aug. 31 until Sept. 26, with dogs from Sept. 14 to Oct. 30 and still-hunting or stalking bears is allowed from Aug. 31 to Nov. 28.
The state estimates Maine’s bear population at more than 31,000.
Share your bear tale!
Bear season began Saturday with Youth Bear Day, and adult hunters were allowed to hit the woods Monday. By now — despite all that natural food — I’m sure a few of you have had success.
As always, we’re interested in hearing your tales and looking at your photos. If you’ve got a bear-hunting story, please drop me a line at the email address listed below.
As the season progresses, I hope to share a few of those photos and stories with BDN readers.
So, what makes for a good bear story? It varies, but here are some guidelines: Big bears are great — the bigger the better. If your bear weighs 400 pounds, you’ve got my attention. If it weighs 500 pounds or more, I hope you’ll sit down and start sending us your photos as soon as possible.
Misadventures are cool, as long as nobody gets hurt. Tenacity and determination always make for good stories. And kids bagging their first bears with help from their relatives (or a guide) can often make for interesting column fodder.
We obviously can’t publish everything we receive, but will do the best that we can.
So good luck! And I hope to hear from you soon.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke