Bear season outlook is outstanding

Shingleton, Mich. — Even though bear numbers may be down in portions of the areas open to bear hunting in the state, hunters who obtained tags in the annual drawing this year may not notice it. The fact that there will be less bear-hunting competition this year due to the issuance of fewer licenses, and that natural foods are scarce in some areas, will increase the chances of success for those with permits.

The number of bear tags issued for Upper Peninsula bear management units was cut by 32 percent this year due to concerns about reduced bear numbers. Nonetheless, DNR biologist Kevin Swanson, of Shingleton, predicts U.P. hunters will do well.

“Bear-hunting prospects in the U.P. remain excellent overall, and we expect good success among both houndsmen and bait hunters this fall,” he wrote in an email. “It is important to note that early to late summer mast availability is alarmingly low in most areas this year. Bears will travel a great many miles to access food sources, so bait will be an effective means of attracting numerous bear this year due to the lack of natural foods.”

Besides the lack of natural foods, reduced bear licenses also means bears will have fewer baits from which to choose. More than 3,600 fewer bear licenses were issued for the U.P. this year compared with 2011. Since each hunter may have up to three baits, that’s potentially more than 10,000 fewer food sources (bait stations) for the region’s bears.

Unlike deer, bears will travel long distances – sometimes as much as 20 miles – to find locations where they can fill their bellies on a daily basis. This could result in more bears than normal visiting baits. And whenever bears travel long distances to find food, it makes them more vulnerable to hunters.

John Cryderman, veteran hound hunter and member of the Michigan Bear Hunters Association from Sault Ste. Marie, is pleased with the reduction in U.P. bear licenses. He believes bear numbers have been down in the eastern U.P. for a number of years, and the reduction in U.P. tags for two years is bound to allow the population to rebound. MBHA lobbied for a reduction in bear licenses.

Training season for bear dogs began during early July, and Cryderman said he hasn’t had as much trouble finding bears to train his hounds on this year as in the past.

“We’re finding small bears to run and there are several reasons for that,” he said. “Last year, there was a sow with three cubs in the area where I train. I think the cubs were females and stayed in the area. Those are the ones we’re probably finding to put our dogs on.

“That 22,000-acre fire near Newberry also displaced some bears. When the area where they used to live burned, they moved into different areas. And there are lots of raspberries in clear-cuts where I train, which is keeping bears in the area.”

Houndsman and bear guide Dan Kirschner, of Powers, reports finding plenty of bears to train his dogs on in Menominee County. His hounds had treed about nine bears by July 20. During training season, dog hunters usually try to chase small to medium-size bruins that are good runners and will give their dogs plenty of exercise.

Kirschner said that one day they unknowingly put their hounds on a 500-pound bruin with a Boone and Crockett-class head. He’s seen a number of bears of that caliber, so he knows what they look like. Fortunately, the party was able to retrieve their dogs without any of them getting injured.

Jim Butler, who lives on a farm in Iron County, thinks bear numbers are actually up in parts of the U.P.

“There are at least eight different bears coming into the clover field on the farm,” he wrote in an email. “I also saw a bear north of Amasa, so that makes nine bears sighted this spring. I question the DNR’s logic that the bear population is down. I have lived on this farm for 62 years and I have never seen bears like I have this year.”

Bear hunters who are hunting in Iron or Dickinson counties may see or shoot collared bears. Students with Mississippi State University, in cooperation with the DNR, collared 18 bruins (11 females and 7 males) there this year in preparation for a 3-year fawn predation study in the medium snowfall zone. Four additional bears were trapped, two of which slipped their collars, but still have ear tags.

Bear numbers don’t appear to be down in Houghton and Keweenaw counties. As of July 31, there were nine or 10 different bears taking advantage of discarded food behind the Konteka Restaurant in White Pine. Bear guide Seth Loyd, of Laurium, said he had a minimum of 100 bears on baits he and an assistant maintained last fall, based on trail camera photos, including a female with two brown cubs. He said hunters took only eight of those bruins.

Sgt. Mark Pomeroy, who is based in Crystal Falls but travels throughout the western U.P. as a DNR law enforcement supervisor, said, “It’s easy to find bear sign and bears anywhere from Ironwood to Iron Mountain. But I hear it from both sides – hunters who are seeing plenty of bears and those who are having difficulty finding tracks. I have good success, but I spend a lot of time in the woods.”

Pomeroy and his wife each killed bears in Iron County last fall while hunting with hounds during mid-October after the baits they had maintained didn’t pan out.

“We should have more bears by shooting fewer the next two years and that’s a good thing,” he said.

Bear numbers are doing so well in the Lower Peninsula’s Baldwin Bear Management Unit that permit numbers were increased this year from 50 to 70. There also are plenty of ear-tagged bears in the Red Oak BMU that were marked during a study on the Turtle Lake Club. A total of 97 bears were marked during 2009 and 2010, and only 28 of them had been killed through 2011, based on the latest information.

DNR bear specialist Adam Bump said he anticipates a harvest of about 1,150 bears in the U.P. this fall and around 244 in the northern Lower Peninsula, for a total of approximately 1,400. State hunters have registered a minimum of 2,000 bruins each year for the past 10 years, with a record of 2,493 killed in 2006.

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