MI: Optimism high for bear hunt

Marquette, Mich. – If you were successful in the drawing for a
2011 bear-hunting license and haven’t yet begun preparing for the
upcoming season, you better get cracking if you want to increase
your chances for success. From all indications, there are more
bears than ever for hunters to choose from, and the more preseason
planning and preparation you do, the better the odds you’ll tag a
bruin.

For the first time ever in the modern era, bear season begins a day
earlier in the northern Lower Peninsula than the Upper Peninsula –
Sept. 9 is the first day of bear hunting in the northern portion of
the Baldwin Bear Management Unit, which includes Grand Traverse,
Benzie, and Leelanau counties and the northwest corner of Kalkaska
County. Hunters with licenses valid for the Baldwin BMU may hunt in
this area for a full week before the Sept. 16 opener everywhere
else in the L.P., and continue hunting through Sept. 24.

The northern portion of the Baldwin BMU opens to bear hunting
before anywhere else in the L.P. in an attempt to reduce nuisance
complaints in the area spawned by a growing bear population. And
there’s no shortage of bears in the rest of the Baldwin BMU,
either. Sixty-eight percent of the bear hunters who had tags for
this unit during 2010 killed a bear.

Using bait to attract bears into view is the most popular hunting
method, and it was legal to start preparing bait sites in the north
Baldwin Unit on Aug. 9. Baiting began Aug. 16 elsewhere in L.P.
BMUs. Aug. 10 is when preseason baiting began in the U.P. Since
deer baiting and feeding is now legal again over much of the L.P.,
up to two gallons of corn or fruits, such as apples, may be used as
bear bait as long as the bait is covered, making the food
inaccessible to deer. In the handful of counties where deer feeding
and baiting are still banned, grains and fruits that deer eat
cannot be used for bear bait.

Bear bait containers such as barrels and buckets may be used on
private land only. On public land, bear bait may be placed on the
ground, in holes in the ground, in hollow stumps or logs, and then
covered with logs or rocks. Most bear hunters who use bait cover
the food anyway to prevent small scavengers such as raccoons,
opossums, and ravens from eating the food. Logs and rocks too heavy
for animals other than bears to move cover the bait.

Hound hunting is another popular bear-hunting method. Dog training
season for bear hunting has been legal since July 8. If you’ll be
hunting with hounds and haven’t done it before, try to take part in
one or more training sessions with the group you plan to hunt with
so you have a better idea what to expect when the season opens.
Training season ends five days before hunting seasons begin.

If you plan on hiring a guide to hunt bears with bait or dogs, you
may be out of luck. The best guides usually book as many hunters as
they can handle soon after license drawing results are announced in
late June. Since most hunting guides now have to register with the
DNR, contact information for them can be obtained from the state
agency. Brenda Mikula, of the Cheboygan DNR office, handles permits
for hunting guides. She can be contacted at (231) 627-4366.

Hunters who have bear licenses valid for the Red Oak BMU will find
the highest bear numbers on the east side of the state in Alpena,
Alcona, Cheboygan, Montmorency, Oscoda, and Presque Isle counties.
If you have permission to hunt on private land in those counties,
your odds of seeing bears is excellent, but public land hunters
have good odds, too, because bears go where the food is regardless
of who owns the property.

Bear numbers are at high levels throughout the U.P. The operator of
the Toonerville Trolly, which begins at Soo Junction and runs for
51⁄2 miles along the upper Tahquamenon River, reported seeing as
many as seven or eight bears per day when the weather wasn’t hot
enough to curtail daytime activity of bruins.

“Based on the number of bears I’ve seen while driving 800 miles a
week in Houghton and Keweenaw counties, bear season should be great
this year,” said Troy Westcott, a bear hunter from Lac LaBelle.
“I’ve seen five already, and I normally only see one.”

And the DNR office in Baraga received an unprecedented seven
nuisance bear reports on one day in July. The fact that day was
July 19 – the day after the news media reported a woman from Ewen
had been attacked by a captive bear – had something to do with the
spike in reports of bear activity, officials said. Many callers
didn’t realize a captive bear was responsible for the attack, and
when they saw a wild bear they got concerned.

One of those reports from Houghton County did involve a bear that
broke through a window screen to obtain food inside a house,
according to Brad Johnson, DNR wildlife biologist.

“The entire west end of the U.P. is looking pretty good in terms of
bear numbers,” Johnson said. “There has been a continuing problem
with bear activity in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
this summer. Some Cub Scouts who were camping in the park, and
thought they had their food secured high enough that it would not
be accessible to bears, lost all of their food to a bear. A couple
of bears in the park have also learned how to break into vehicles
containing food.”

The season opens Sept. 10 in the U.P. and ends Oct. 26.

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