Bear season opens Sept. 3

Correspondent

Madison  Bear hunters have reason to be optimistic about the
upcoming season.

“Everything looks really good,” said Kyle LaFond, DNR assistant
bear ecologist. “All of our surveys indicate that we have a healthy
population. I’ve heard from guys in Zone B and they’re seeing a lot
of bears. It’s the same in Zone A.”

The DNR has issued 4,710 Class A bear permits this year and set
a harvest goal of 2,380 animals. This year’s bear population is
estimated at 11,150 animals, the first time since 1993 that the
population is actually projected to be below the statewide
population goal of 11,300.

Wisconsin’s primary bear range roughly covers the northern third
of the state, from Polk to Marinette counties. The state is broken
down into four zones: Zones A and A1 cover northwestern Wisconsin,
Zone B covers northeastern Wisconsin, and the rest of the state is
in Zone C.

Since the 2000 season, the Wisconsin bear season always begins
the Wednesday after Labor Day, which is Sept. 3 this year. The
seasons vary by zone, with bait hunters and dog hunters alternating
openers from one year to the next in the zones where both methods
are used. This year, hound hunters go first in zones A, A1 and B
were dogs are permitted. That season opens Sept. 3 and runs through
Sept. 30. Bait hunters in those zones begin Sept. 10 and continue
through Oct. 7.

In Zone C and portions of A and B where dogs are not allowed,
the season runs Sept. 3 through Oct. 7.

Season dates can also be found in the bear hunting regulations
or on the DNR’s web site, www.dnr.state. wi.us.

LaFond said 54,879 hunters applied for 4,985 kill permits in
2002. Hunters shot 2,471 bears in 2002, for a 50-percent success
rate, with the highest harvests coming out of Bayfield (384 bears),
Sawyer (214), Douglas (208), and Price (203) counties. Zone A1 led
the way with 968 bears, followed by Zone A with 839, Zone B with
446, and Zone C with 218.

The 2002 kill was down 17 percent from the 2001 kill of 2,986
bears.

Baiting was the most effective hunting method last year, as 71
percent of successful hunters used bait, 13 percent used dogs, and
15 percent used a combination of the two.

Wisconsin is one of nine states, along with Alaska, Idaho,
Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, and Wyoming, that
allow baiting for bears. The practice involves luring bears with
anything from cookies to candy to corn syrup (meat and meat
byproducts are not legal in Wisconsin) and waiting for the animal
to show up.

“It’s one of the best management tools we have,” LaFond said.
“It allows hunters to be selective and take out the bigger boars,
rather than the sows and cubs.”

Wisconsin hunters should consult the 2003 Wisconsin Bear Hunting
Regulations for baiting restrictions.

“Bait materials must be totally enclosed in a hollow log, a hole
in the ground, or a stump that is capped with logs, rocks, or other
natural and unprocessed substances that also prevents deer from
getting to the material,” he said.

The DNR logged 1,151 bear damage complaints from April through
October of 2002. That was up 25 percent from the 922 complaints of
2001. As a result, 396 bears were trapped and moved; 73 of those
bears were ear tagged for monitoring.

Here’s the DNR’s forecast for the upcoming season.

Northern Region

Black bear numbers are down compared to last year, part of a
management strategy to reach a more stable bear population that is
more in line with the amount of suitable habitat and sociological
factors.

Past higher harvest levels corresponded with a greater number of
permits issued in the three northern bear zones (A, A1 and B). The
number of permits issued for the upcoming season will be reduced
compared to last year and are meant to keep the population from
experiencing wide fluctuations.

Weather conditions and the presence or absence of natural food
during the season will continue to greatly influence harvest
opportunities.

Northeast Region

Black bear numbers in the Zone B area of the Northeast Region
remain stable, while numbers are slowly increasing in the Zone C
portion of the region.

Bear sightings and nuisance complaints are common again this
year. This is not only a function of bear numbers, but of an
increase in human development and activity in traditional bear
range.

The Zone B portion of this region provides large tracts of
public lands. Hound hunting is available to permit holders in this
portion of the region, but is prohibited in Zone C.

Much of Zone B and most of Zone C is comprised of private land.
Securing hunting access to private property can be time-consuming
and difficult, but opportunities to harvest quality bears on these
lands are growing.

In many cases, landowners experienced nuisance bear problems
earlier in the year. Early scouting, preparation, and landowner
contacts will help ensure a successful hunt.

Bear hunters might be surprised to hear that there are some good
hunting opportunities in the Zone C portion of the Northeast
Region, particularly in the southern end of Oconto County and in
Shawano County. Hunters shot 20 bears in Shawano County last
season. That county is slowly gaining a reputation for growing some
whopper bruins.

West-Central Region

Last year’s harvest of 217 animals fell short of the 270 that
the DNR would have liked to have seen taken. This wasn’t because of
a lack of bears. In fact, all surveys indicate a growing population
in the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin.

Winter den surveys suggest the bears went into the winter in
good shape.

A number of sows weighed in excess of 300 pounds each. These are
extremely heavy weights for sows. Recruitment also seemed to be
above the average of two to three cubs per litter. One sow checked
in a den near Eau Claire by DNR biologist Mike Gappa weighed more
than 300 pounds in March. That sow had four very large cubs for
their age, despite the fact that this bear was old, based on the
amount of wear on her teeth, which were worn right down to the gum
line.

Last year’s kill fell short in this area because of a
super-abundant acorn crop. When that happens, the bears leave the
baits to forage on natural foods, which decreases their
availability to hunters. The DNR issued 780 kill tags to harvest
300 bears this year an increase over last year in an attempt to
stabilize this growing population.

This year’s success will largely depend on the acorn crop.
Counties that should be keyed in on are Marathon, Chippewa, and
Clark. Other counties that have large blocks of public land are
Jackson, Eau Claire, Adams, and Juneau.

One bear hunter ready for another season is Gil Arndt, of Green
Lake County, who hunts for bear in the Tomahawk area. Arndt hunts
with bait rather than dogs.

“We usually start baiting around the Fourth of July,” he said.
“June and early July is the mating season and the big boars are
doing a lot of traveling. It’s similar to the rut for deer. A big
boar will travel 50 miles in a week. I could have a bait up in
Tomahawk and a bear from Wausau could hit it.”

Arndt hauls 55-gallon drums of corn syrup, cookies, candy, and
pastries north to Lincoln County to bait bears.

“Dogs and bait are the only effective ways to hunt bears in
Wisconsin, but hunting with dogs is easily 10 times more expensive
than baiting,” he said, noting that most people don’t live a
lifestyle, or in an area, that allows them the time and space
needed to train, house, and care for a kennel full of trailing
hounds.

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