Early hunting seasons highlighted by Northern Zone bear offering

Hunting are seasons well under way across parts of New York, with those for squirrel and Canada geese leading the way when they opened Sept. 1. In the North Country, primarily the Adirondack region, there was much anticipation for the early bear season that began on Sept. 16. There’s also now an early bear season in parts of southeastern New York that opened on Sept. 9.

An Adirondack tradition, the early bear season can account for anywhere from 20 to over 40 percent of the entire Northern Zone black bear harvest. That figure varies annually mainly because of food sources, which have a direct effect on a bear hunter’s ability to pinpoint their quarry.

A total of 514 black bears where reportedly taken in the Northern Zone in 2016, just one less than the five-year average of 515. Last year 238 bears, nearly half of the Northern Zone harvest, were taken during the early season. That’s well over the historical average of 172 and somewhat more than the five-year average of 203.

Last year there were no beechnuts to be found in the Adirondacks, and if hunters found pockets of them they kept that to themselves. There were acorns and black cherry in places but the apple crop was also way off. The result was more human/bear encounters during the summer, including at the numerous campgrounds that dot the Adirondack Park.

That’s not the case this year. Bear activity at campgrounds is down, as are problematic bear encounters. I’ve heard reports of beechnuts in parts of the Adirondacks, which is good news for both bear and deer, and we’re enjoying a dandy of an apple crop. The jury is out on acorns and black cherry, but it was a good summer for wild blueberries and raspberries, which bears will gorge themselves on during the summer months when those crops are prevelent.

So what is an early-season bear hunter to do? Hopefully you’ve done some homework. A call to your regional office of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is never a bad idea. They should be able to tell you of any recent bear activity. Meanwhile, get out there and do some scouting, especially locating the aforementioned food sources.

Next, take a look a look at the black bear harvest statistics at DEC’s website: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/42232.html.  There you’ll see which areas typically produce good bear numbers. Look for towns that have plenty of public lands nearby. Many areas consistently produce solid bear harvest numbers year after year.

The early season is just the start of bear hunting, with archery and muzzleloading seasons on the way, and eventually the regular big game season. Many bears are harvested by deer hunters who just happen to encounter them.

At one time the sporting license year in New York began on Oct. 1, and those who hunted the early bear season in the Northern Zone could do so with a leftover tag. That is no longer the case, and with the license year now starting with Sept. 1 bear hunters will reach their bag limit should they punch an early-season tag.

Whether you’re going north or south for an early bear hunt, have fun, be safe and best of luck.

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