High bear numbers bring high hunter expectations

Editor

Madison DNR black bear biologists say conditions are stacking up
for a very good bear season, even though the 2002 harvest quota and
permit level is down a bit from last year.

This year is the first that bait hunters will open the season on
the first Wednesday after Labor Day. That date, Sept. 4 this year,
is one week before hound hunters. The “first Wednesday” opener
first appeared last year, when hound hunters opened the season
ahead of bait hunters.

“It looks to me like it’s going to be a good season,” said Mike
Gappa, DNR bear biologist at Eau Claire. “Timing of the acorn drop
could be critical to the success of bait sitters. If we get an
early drop, it could have an impact on bears visiting baits. That’s
why we moved the season opener up to the first Wednesday after
Labor Day starting last year. Once the acorns hit the ground, it
can be tough to draw a bear to a bait.

“If we don’t get much of an acorn crop at first, bears could be
more vulnerable to bait. We did have good berry crops, and plenty
of natural food throughout the year, so the bears should be in good
shape,” he said.

Dog hunters also use baits as a starting point for their hounds,
but a good “cold tracker” can take off on track left by a bear that
might have visited a bait before daylight. If bears leave the baits
completely, some houndsmen have “rig” dogs that can pick up the
scent of a bear that has crossed a road, or is walking parallel to
a road. Bait hunters can’t be successful unless a bear comes in
during shooting hours. Therefore, this early opener could be
critical for increasing harvest success for bait sitters, Gappa
said.

“I think we’re going to have a good kill, which we need.
Everyone sounds pretty excited,” Gappa said. “I’ve had quite a few
first-timers coming in asking for advice. Everyone wants a big
bear, and they may see tracks on their bait and they might be
tempted to pass up a nice bear on the first day. If I saw something
in the 150- to 200-pound range, I wouldn’t hold off. Once the acorn
drop starts, bait visitations go way down. That’s not to say you
don’t have a chance, but the chances are greatly reduced.”

Kyle LaFond, of Madison, is the DNR’s assistant deer, bear, and
elk ecologist. He said this year’s harvest goal is 2,450 bears. The
DNR issued 4,985 permits to reach that goal: Zone A, 2,050 permits;
Zone A1, 1,580; Zone B, 625; and Zone C, 730.

Last year, hunters killed 2,986 bears (53—percent success), or
13 percent above the 2001 goal of 2,650 bears. That number included
1,632 males (55 percent) and 1,336 females. The sex of 18 bears was
not reported. Zone A led the state kill with 1,207 bears. Zone A1
had 1,014, Zone B had 489 and Zone C had 276 bears.

The DNR reduced the 2002 quota in light of the 2001 kill, but
LaFond said the state’s bear population is still in good shape and
in no danger of being overharvested. In fact, the state’s bear
population estimate of 13,000 is still a little above the statewide
goal of 10,900 animals.

The average number of preference points was five in zones A, A1
and C, and eight in Zone B. Two hunters with 13 points got tags,
one in A and one in C.

In Zone A, 11,796 hunters applied, and 17.4 percent got tags. In
Zone A1, 7,303 applied, with 21.6 percent got tags. In Zone B,
7,625 applied, with 8.2 percent getting drawn. In Zone C, 4,073
applied, with 17.9 percent getting tags.

Overall, about 16 percent of the 54,865 applicants for harvest
permits received them this year. Two hunters had 15 years of
preference. The number of applicants increased from the 53,508 who
applied in 2001.

Here’s how the 2002 season will unfold.

In Zone C, and portions of Zone A and Zone B where dogs are not
permitted, the bear hunt will run Sept. 4 through Oct. 8.

In Zone A1 and portions of Zone A and Zone B where dogs are
permitted, the hunt will run Sept. 4 through Oct. 1 for those using
bait and any methods not including dogs, and Sept. 11 through Oct.
8 for those using dogs. From Oct. 2-8 in those areas, bear hunting
will be with the aid of dogs only.

In a related bear matter, efforts have been discontinued to
change the application process to allow adults to transfer
preference points to youths, according to LaFond.

WON correspondent Kevin Naze contributed to this report.

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