The Maine Bear Season
By V. Paul Reynolds

Once again, Maine can boast a large and healthy black bear population that is estimated to be about 27,000. Eclipsed only by our November deer hunt, the early fall hunt for black bears has become a major contributor to the state’s rural economy. According to state economists, Maine’s annual bear hunt brings more than $70 million to the state’s economy. Guided bear hunts in early September, by nonresident hunters bagging their bears at baited sites, comprise the largest proportion of the annual bear kill.

Each year, hunters take about 10 percent of Maine’s bear population. Last year’s registered bear kill was 3,486. During November, bear hunters bagged 65 bears. Bears have been taken that weighed in at well over 500 lbs. More bear are bagged in Aroostook County than any other county, and about 70 percent of the statewide bear tagged are taken by nonresident hunters who spend about a week in Maine paying guides, sporting camps and buying gas and groceries.

Although the bear hunt doesn’t officially begin until Aug. 30th, guides and outfitters began making preparations in late July. Once areas of bear activity are located, guides will set up bait sites. Guides and outfitters must pay landowners for a given number of site permits. For the rest of the month, these sites will be “baited” with something “bear edible.” Old donuts gathered up from bakeries and fast food outlets have become a popular bear bait. A bear guide I know in Western Maine “sweetens” his bait site perimeters by placing nearby scented cotton balls laced with a popular liqueur!

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From now until the bear season opens August 30th, the bait sites will be replenished every few days. The idea, or course, is to keep the bruin interested in hopes that it will revisit the bait site when legal hunting begins.

The state bear season runs from Aug. 30 to Nov. 27. Bears may be hunted over baited sites from Aug. 30 to Sept. 25. Houndsmen may hunt bear with dogs from Sept. 13 to Oct. 29. All bear hunters must have a bear permit. This includes November deer hunters who take an “incidental” black bear. For non-resident bear hunters there is an added twist: our visiting nonresident November hunters, must also possess a late-season bear permit. So here we go again, discriminating against the very people who bring their recreational bucks to Maine. To its credit, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) tried diligently to convince Mainers to do away with our Maine Residents Only Deer Hunting Day. We have a knack in this state for always biting the hand that feeds.

On a more promising note, state bear biologist Randy Cross says that the bears are healthy and plentiful again this year. In Randy’s words:

“Last fall was an early den year, resulting in fat bears with heavy pelts early in bait season - also natural food supplies were low during bait hunting season resulting in high bait interest among bears and a higher harvest rate as well. I know it’s confusing, but this year is likely to be a late den year due to relatively abundant late fall foods such as beechnuts. This is the confusing part, most bears should be leaner with thinner pelts early in the bait season as the bears delay fattening for hibernation and priming their coats until later in the year. This also should result in more opportunity for deer hunters in Nov and trappers and houndsman who want to hunt in October. I’m curious how it is all going to work out this fall. Don’t recall witnessing such an early spring and many bear foods are well ahead of schedule. Just how this will affect this fall’s bear hunt, I am anxious to see.” Two relatively new changes that apply again this year:

1) Nonresident deer hunters must buy a separate and new bear hunting permit to take a bear during deer season and 2) All bear trappers must buy a new and separate bear permit to harvest a bear with a trap this year.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.


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