Albany — New York bear hunters generally will have a tough act to follow heading into the 2012 season.
Last year’s harvest hit record highs in two of the state’s three bear hunting regions – the Southeastern and Central-Western areas – and led to a statewide kill of 1,258 bears. That figure was above the 2010 take of 1,064 and also above the five-year average of 1,152.
DEC officials credited the big harvest in part to the expansion of bear hunting into several wildlife management units for the first time ever, as well as an expanded hunting season in the Southeastern and Central-Western areas. There, bear season opened on the same day as the state’s single biggest hunting day – the opening day of the Southern Zone firearms deer season.
Regardless of those changes, the fact remains that bear numbers are increasing in many areas of the state and expanding their range into new areas.
“Particularly in the Catskills, if you look at the year to year harvest we’re still on an upward trend,” DEC Region 4 wildlife biologist Larry Bifaro said. “Even eliminating the units we’ve added (for bear hunting) since 2004, we’re still seeing an increase in the harvest.”
This year, bear hunters will have additional opportunities to take a bruin in the Southeastern and Central-Western regions. A regulatory set an Oct. 1 opening date for the Southern Zone archery deer and bear season. That moves up the archery bear season by about two weeks in those portions of the Southern Zone where bear hunting is allowed.
Even with that increased opportunity, DEC biologists are stopping short of predicting another record kill in those two regions this fall.
“I don’t foresee a wild fluctuation in the harvest, but given the record harvest of last year, it should actually drop a little bit,” Bifaro said.
Region 8 biologist Art Kirsch agrees. “I think it will be another solid season, but I’m not predicting any record harvest this year,” Kirsch said.
Last year’s kill of 630 bears topped the previous record of 520 set in 2008, and was also well above the 2010 take of 401. Fifty of those bruins were taken in the wildlife management units east of the
Hudson River – from Westchester and Rockland to Washington counties – where bear hunting was allowed for the first time.
Bifaro said nuisance bear complaints in DEC’s Region 4 were “really active this year. Last year was a record number and we’re just behind that this year. It’s hard to make a direct correlation between that and the fall harvest, but it’s relative to some degree.”
DEC personnel euthanized one bear following a home entry in the town of Hunter.
While the bulk of the bears killed in New York are taken by deer hunters who simply encounter a bruin, Bifaro says more and more hunters “are aware of the possibility” of seeing a bear. “So it’s not a complete surprise anymore,” he said.
Hunters in the state’s Central-Western bear hunting unit killed a record 353 bruins last season, easily topping the previous standard of 193 set in 2008. Bears are continuing to expand their range into many areas of western New York, with sightings even occurring in suburban Rochester and Syracuse.
“There’s been a gradual interest in hunting bears as more of them are seen,” Kirsch said.
The 2011 tally of 353 bears more than doubled the previous year’s harvest of 142, and was also easily above the region’s five-year average of 149.
Last season’s surprisingly low bear kill in the Adirondacks may have set the stage for a big season this fall. Combine that with dry weather that seemingly has bruins on the move in search of food, and hunters could see a return to more Adirondack-like harvest numbers.
“If the bears continue to be out and being a nuisance – and it’s been a pretty bad year for nuisance complaints – hunters will probably do okay early in the season,” DEC Region 6 wildlife biologist Steve Heerkens said.
The Adirondacks’ 2011 bear kill of a mere 275 bruins was sharply below the 2010 take of 521 and even further below the five-year average of 556.
Simple math may be in favor of the hunters this season, says DEC Region 5 wildlife biologist Ed Reed, on the heels of last year’s poor harvest.
“It wasn’t a great harvest last year, so there’s probably just more bears out there this year,” Reed said. “I expect it will be a good season.”
At least three bears in the Adirondacks were killed due to their activities that included, in one case, a home break-in. A permit to kill a nuisance bear; he used hounds to track it down. Two bears were euthanized – one for the home break-in and another Heerkens described as a “pretty belligerent male who wasn’t learning and was bluffing people off picnic tables” in Old Forge.