Grand Rapids, Minn. — The bear harvest in Minnesota won’t set any records this year, but state officials say the kill already has surpassed that of last year, and that hunter success has been satisfying, too.
As of Monday, state bear hunters were two bruins shy of a 2,400-animal harvest, according to Dan Stark, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist in Grand Rapids. With just another week remaining in the season, which closes Oct. 14, he expects fewer than another 100 will be killed. In 2011, the bear take was 2,131.
“This year the success rate was pretty good for hunters, better than expected,” Stark said.
Last year, 7,050 bear-hunting permits were available via a new procedure that ensured all available licenses were purchased (more than 19,000 people applied for a license). This year, Stark said, about 18,500 people applied for 6,000 permits. There also were about 2,500 permits sold in the “no-quota” area, similar to the past several years.
Stark said it was encouraging that more males than females had been harvested this year, about 1,400 males to 1,000 females.
“We hoped to see this year more males than females,” he said, adding that the department would like to see a steady to slightly increasing bear population.
In recent years, he said, it appears the bear population in the state hasn’t been as productive as might be hoped, partly because of the proportion of younger, less-productive females. “We could take fewer bears and still not see (the number of bears) go upward,” he said.
One Minnesota bear-hunting guide, who hunts in the Lake Mille Lacs area, said there were positive signs in that regard this year.
Dave Hughley, of Hughley’s Guide Service, said his service guided 18 hunters who killed 16 bears. Along the way, he added, they also saw a number of sows with cubs (guided hunters are told not to shoot females). Of those sows, three had three cubs in tow; a fourth had two cubs.
Hughley said his hunters typically hunt the first couple weeks, then vacate the woods as small-game hunters and deer bowhunters arrive the second week in September. But overall, in that area of east-central Minnesota, conditions for bear hunting were pretty good.
“(Natural bear) food was short right away, and the drought didn’t help any,” he said. The largest bear shot by Hughley’s hunters was a 320-pounder (dressed). Also, two cinnamon-phase bears were killed by his guided hunters.
While bear hunting largely has remained the same in the past 20 years, the number of applicants, the number of permits available, the number of hunters, and the harvest have varied greatly. Sometimes there’s been a fairly dramatic harvest bounce from year to year.
For example, bear harvest dropped in 2002 to about 1,900, on the heels of the 2001 season during which nearly 5,000 bears were taken. Then, in 2003 the harvest jumped back to about 3,600. During those three years, the estimated number of hunters was 15,500 (2001), 13,800 (’02), and 13,600 (’03).
That was shortly after an era during which 25,000 to 30,000 people regularly applied for a permit to kill a bear. That number dropped below 20,000 in 2003 and has remained there since that time.
Meanwhile, the bear harvest has hovered around 3,000 most years besides 2002 (1,915), 2008 (2,135), and last year.
Stark said the most recent bear population estimate is from 2008, and was about 17,000, plus or minus about 5,000 animals. Six years earlier it was estimated to be in the 20,000 to 30,000 range.