Bear hunt to include drop in kill tags

Lansing — A bumper mast crop and reduced kill tags for the second year in a row could result in a lower overall black bear kill in Michigan this fall. But for those hunters who received a kill tag, the prospects remain pretty good for tagging a bruin.

The DNR reduced bear kill tags by about 30 percent last year in an effort to lower the overall take. Tetracycline studies of Michigan’s bear numbers, which pointed to a declining population, coupled with hunter reports of fewer bears on the landscape, led to the reduction. Subsequently, the statewide kill dipped to 1,646, last year, down 547 from 2011. That was the first year since 2000 that Michigan’s black bear harvest dropped below 2,000 animals.

“Bear hunters are concerned about bear numbers and we’re concerned about bear numbers,” said Kevin Swanson, the DNR’s bear biologist in the Upper Peninsula.

This year, the DNR issued 7,906 bear kill tags, down 85 from last year and down considerably from the 11,742 kill tags available in 2011.

“Generally, I think it will be a good season,” Swanson said. “We reduced the quotas last year so there should be more bears on the landscape. There is excellent bear habitat across the Upper Peninsula.”

A very good soft mast crop this year could prove to be detrimental to bait hunters. When mast crops are up, bears don’t have to move far to find food and are less inclined to visit hunters’ bait sites. When mast is sparse like it was last year, bears are prone to visit bait sites to feed. In times of limited mast crops, bears will travel long distances to find food, which also makes them more vulnerable to hunters.

“We have a bumper blueberry crop this year, and I suspect raspberries and strawberries are doing well, too,” said Brian Roell, DNR wildlife biologist.

“Baiting began Aug. 10 in the Upper Peninsula, and “some of those baits may not get hit if there are a lot of natural foods in the area,” Roell said. “Blueberries, especially, can hold on pretty long,” and it’s likely early bait hunters had to compete with that food source.

Red oaks are the main source of hard mast in the Upper Peninsula. Beech bark disease is spreading from east to west across the Upper Peninsula and has decimated beech trees in the eastern U.P.

“Oak trees are the main hard mast over here. We don’t have many beech trees anymore,” Roell said. “We had a bumper crop of acorns last year, and I don’t know if we’ll have two bumper crops in a row, but we have had a lot of rain this year so we’ll see.

“The bears are out there. I don’t think hunters will have a tough time finding bears,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of spring work with wolves, and I’m seeing a lot of bear tracks and bear sign out there. We’re hearing that guys are seeing plenty of bears, so it should be a good year for hunters.”

In the northern Lower Peninsula, bear hunters will find a similar situation as in the U.P., as mast crops appear to be in good shape.

A reduction of 85 licenses from last year was absorbed in the Red Oak Bear Management Unit in the northern L.P. where bear numbers have been in decline, according to biologists.

“Last year, we reduced licenses by about 30 percent overall,” said Adam Bump, DNR bear specialist. “We pretty much stayed the same this year, with the exception of Red Oak where we reduced licenses a little more.

That’s part of a long-term goal to reduce the harvest there, to stabilize a population that has been in decline.”

Bear season opens Sept. 10 in the U.P., Sept. 14 in the north Baldwin Unit, and Sept. 21 in the Red Oak, Gladwin, and Baldwin units.

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