Bear hunters report ’06 was banner year

By Marty Kovarik Correspondent

Marquette, Mich. — According to officials around the state, it
looks like Michigan bear hunters had a banner season. Although the
official harvest numbers won’t be available for a while, there is a
possibility the 2006 season was the best since the lottery system
was put into effect.

“In general, my impression was that it was a much better season
than last year,” said Dave Bostick, the DNR’s black bear
specialist. “Based on the east U.P., it looks like we are pretty
close to a record season, but it’s still way too early to
tell.”

According to Bostick, problems with berry crops in some areas,
cool weather for the opening two weeks of the season, and a
less-than-productive year for natural foods had bears moving more
than usual

“All these factors add up to bears hitting the baits more,”
Bostick said.

Another sign that suggested bears were out searching for food
was nuisance bear complaints that lasted into September. Typically,
complaints start winding down in August, Bostick said.

According to bear expert and author Richard P. Smith in
Marquette, bears were hitting the baits in the northern U.P. with
regularity due to the drought conditions. Baits in Menominee County
were less productive because of an abundance of beech nuts, wild
cherries, and corn.

DNR wildlife biologist Doug Wagner told Michigan Outdoor News
that bear check-in numbers at Crystal Falls were up slightly from
last year, from 205 in 2005 to 223 this year. The hazel nuts
disappeared quickly and there wasn’t much of a hard mast crop.

According to Wagner, this year’s kill may be very close to an
all-time high for the eastern U.P. Although bear hunters must
register their bears, many hunters don’t register them in the area
where they were killed. Some hunters check in U.P. bears downstate.
Final numbers are about a month away.

“We checked in some nice animals this year in the 400- to
500-pound range,” Wagner said.

Biologist Terry McFadden in Marquette said the number of bears
registered at that office also was up. Out of the seven check-in
stations in the Marquette area, the count was at 330, up from 255
in 2005. McFadden attributes the success to few acorns and good
weather until near the end of the season. He said the bears he
checked appeared healthy.

Although the largest animal checked in at Marquette was 308
pounds, McFadden knows of one checked in at Arnold that dressed out
at 528 pounds.

“That’s just a huge bear,” he said.

Terry Minzey, wildlife biologist in Newberry, said the hunt went
well in his area. Preliminary numbers are hovering around 450, up
about 100 animals from last year. This was close to their target,
he said. Minzey adds that poor mast crops made bears especially
susceptible to baits. But a late bloom of blueberries and
cranberries shut the bears down at bait piles toward the end of the
season.

“This has the potential to be a record year; we won’t know for
sure until all the numbers are in,” Minzey said. “I suspect this
may be the highest take since the lottery system. It’s been a very
good season. The harvest was up, hunters are happy, and we’re
happy.”

Bear hunting also was good below the bridge in the Red Oak Unit
according to Glen Mathews, wildlife supervisor for the northeast
management unit in Gaylord.

“It was a good bear season,” he said. “Most stations felt that
they checked in more bears than last year.”

In zone two, bear harvest was high during the 2003 and 2004
seasons at 423 and 383 animals, respectively. But the harvest
nose-dived in 2005 down to 255.

“Soft mast was not good at the time of the hunt, and we had no
real hard mast this year,” Mathews said. “It was a good year for
baits to be effective. My guess is that numbers will be back to the
‘03 and ‘04 levels.”

Statewide, a total of 2,218 bears were harvested in 2005 for a
hunter success rate of 20 percent. Michigan’s bear country is
divided into 10 management units, and hunters apply for tags
through a preference-point lottery system.

Hunters may apply solely for a preference point, which gives
them better odds in future drawings.

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