Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Mixed bag on the bear food front

Grand Rapids, Minn. — With bear baiting set to begin Aug. 17, hunters across northern Minnesota are curious about the competition they’ll have this year – not from other bear baiters, but from the natural stuff provided by forests of the state.

The answer, according to a few who’ve been among the brush, berries, nuts, and bugs, is that it’s variable across the bear range, but no particular part will be completely devoid of natural foods.

That’s the word from Karen Noyce, a DNR bear research biologist in Grand Rapids. And, generally speaking, it’s good news for bear hunters who would, come the Sept. 1 opener, prefer those bruins instead visit strategically placed baits.

The season runs through Oct. 14, and there are 6,000 bear tags available in 11 permit areas. In the “no-quota” area, an unlimited number of permits are available for purchase over the counter.

For what it’s worth, the early spring has affected many natural crops, Noyce said. In north-central Minnesota, she said, the hazelnut crop looks great, and red oak acorns appear to be another good natural option for bears. The berry crop has been marginal.

In northwestern Minnesota, there’s a recent phenomenon that will challenge bear hunters, according to Doug Franke, DNR wildlife manager in Thief River Falls. That’s the proliferation of corn crops in that part of the state – one known for agriculture, but not necessarily a lot of corn.

New corn varieties better adapted to the growing season and soils of the northwest have changed that, Franke said.

“The wildcard (regarding bear hunting) is there’s a lot of corn in the area this year,” he said. Bears especially like corn during certain periods of its growth, and conservation officer reports this week indicated the crop was getting a lot of attention from bruins.

Beyond the field corn, Franke said much of the berry-type products in the area are “very patchy, spotty.”

The hazelnut crop in the area was “mediocre at best,” and acorns looked OK in some places. Franke said drought affected some locations in the northwest, “but some areas got shots of rain at the right time.”

“Overall, I’d say there’s a marginal (natural) food crop in this part of the state, and that baiting will be OK,” he said.

Most of Franke’s work area is in the “no-quota” zone.

On the other side of northern Minnesota, Brian Bachman lives in the Brainerd area, and guides bear hunters near Ely.

As for Brainerd, Bachman, of the North American Bear Foundation,” said hazelnuts were in good shape, the berry crop was limited, and that acorns already are littering the forest floor.

In the northeast, “There are no oak trees, so I don’t have to contend with acorns,” he said.

The blueberry crop was poor, he added, possibly due to a late frost – or, more accurately, perhaps, an early spring.

What competes more often with his baits in the Ely area are pin cherries and choke cherries, according to Bachman, who this year will place 75 baits for 25 hunters he has coming to camp.

Unsold or any surplus bear-hunting licenses were to have gone on sale earlier this week, and may be purchased by anyone who wishes to do so.

The bag limit this year is one bear in quota zones and two bears in no-quota zones. Legal shooting hours are from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.

Also, a person may not place bait for bears on or after Aug. 17 unless the person has a 2012 bear license or is operating under the direction of a person with the license.

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