Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Bear hunters experiencing mixed results

Marquette, Mich. — Due to a 30-percent reduction in the number of bear licenses issued for the Upper Peninsula this year, hunters were expected to harvest fewer bruins. That’s exactly what appears to have happened in the western U.P., according to preliminary registration figures, but those same results also point to an increase in bear harvest in the eastern U.P.

“Through Sept. 19 of this year, 175 bears had been registered in the west U.P.,” Kevin Swanson, DNR wildlife habitat biologist, said. Swanson is the designated bear specialist for the U.P.

“By the same date the year before, 310 bears had been registered. Not all of the private registration stations have reported their results yet, though. We won’t get an accurate idea of how this season went until it’s over,” he said. “For the east U.P. as of Sept. 23, 197 bears had been registered so far during 2012 compared to 178 for 2011. Here again, all of the private registration stations have not reported, so this represents incomplete data.”

One explanation for possible better success in the eastern U.P. this year compared to a year ago, according to Swanson, is a lack of natural foods in that part of the region. He said there are no acorn-producing oak trees in the east. There are beech trees, but they didn’t produce a mast crop this year.

With fewer natural foods present, bears are more vulnerable to hunters. Swanson said the presence of lots of oak trees that produced acorns this year in the western U.P. has reduced the vulnerability of bears to hunters in that area. Black bears favor acorns and will travel many miles to find them, especially when other natural foods are scarce, which was the case this year.

Another factor that could play a role in better bear hunting success in the eastern U.P. than the west is possible movement of bears from Ontario into Michigan. The neighboring Canadian province currently is experiencing a spike in bear numbers as a result of excellent natural foods such as blueberries and wild cherries during 2011. The high level of nutrition available to pregnant females last year generated a bumper crop of cubs this year.

The jump in bear numbers in Ontario may have caused some yearlings that were born during 2011 to disperse into Michigan. If that’s the case, there’s even greater potential for that to happen next year. Swanson said he didn’t have any way of knowing if bears from Ontario contributed to an increase in the number of bruins in the eastern U.P.

One of the possible results of reduced bear-hunting pressure this year is a reduction in the number of big bears that have been killed. Only one bruin in the 500-pound class has reportedly been killed so far this year. In recent years, several bears in that weight class typically have been reported during the first several weeks of the season.

“Most of the bears registered so far are of average size,” Swanson said. “The average weight for Michigan bears is 120 to 140 pounds. I did hear about a bear taken by a group of dog hunters in Schoolcraft County that had a dressed weight of 353 pounds. I heard about an even bigger bear taken by a 14-year-old boy by Blaney Park.”

That boy is David Rahn, of Germfask. He shot the trophy bruin with a .270 caliber rifle at 7:25 p.m. on Sept. 14 while hunting over bait with Ed Beckley, a friend of David Rahn’s father. When Rahn shot the bear, he thought it was a 200-pounder.

The field-dressed carcass broke a 440-pound scale when they tried to weigh it. The bruin’s live weight was at least 500 pounds.

The big bear was the first bruin Rahn saw while hunting during 2012. He had hunted two other locations with his father, John Rahn, earlier in the week without seeing anything. John Rahn said the bear was so old it only had one canine tooth left in its mouth. The others had been broken off. He suspects the bruin was at least 20 years old.

The big bear is the second bruin to David Rahn’s credit. He shot a 175-pounder last year. John Rahn said the bear tags his son has obtained each of the past two years were donated by other hunters who were successful in the drawing for licenses.

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