Lansing — An abundance of natural food and a reduction in kill tags led to a reduced bear kill this fall, preliminary reports indicate.
“Overall I think it was an OK season,” Matt Pedigo, president of the Michigan Bear Hunters Association, told Michigan Outdoor News. “For the most part, hunters are saying that bear numbers are still down.
That’s a concern for MBHA. We’ve been asking the DNR to reduce the number of tags available to give the population a chance to recover.”
Tetracycline studies of Michigan’s bear population, which pointed to a declining population, coupled with hunter reports of fewer bears in the woods, led to a 30-percent reduction in the number of bear tags available last year. Another 85 tags were removed from that total this fall – all in the Red Oak Bear Management Unit in the northern Lower Peninsula.
A bumper mast crop also played into the apparent lower harvest this fall. When mast crops are abundant, bears won’t hit bait sites as readily as they would when mast is light, like it was last year. Plus, they don’t have to travel far to find food, which makes them less vulnerable to hunters.
This year, the DNR issued 7,906 bear kill tags, down considerably from the 11,742 kill tags available in 2011.
“It sounds like it was a pretty good season, overall,” said Adam Bump, the DNR’s bear specialist. “My impression is that the harvest will be down a little from last year. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad year. Last year we were over our projected harvest in most bear management units, probably due to the poor mast crop we had. The decline this year is possibly due to the good mast crop. Bears aren’t as susceptible to bait when there is a lot of natural food.”
The reduction of 85 licenses from last year was absorbed in the Red Oak BMU in the northern L.P., where bear numbers have been in decline, according to biologists.
“It looks like it was down a little in Red Oak, but we expected that because we reduced licenses there from 835 last year to 750 this year. Our goal was a 10-percent reduction in the harvest there from last year,” Bump said. “In 2012, we looked at a four-year step-down in Red Oak. We wanted to cut back the harvest fairly significantly, but not all at one time. We’ll evaluate this year’s harvest and if we need to, we’ll cut licenses another 10 percent for next year.”
In the Upper Peninsula, reports were mixed at bear check stations. The best success seemed to be at the west end of the U.P.
“We had a pretty good season over here,” said Gloria Luckey, of Luckey’s Sport Shop in Iron River, in the western U.P. “The ones we registered averaged about 190 pounds dressed, and the biggest we saw was 605 pounds. That was a really nice bear.
“I checked almost exactly the same number of bears this year that I have the last three years, 186, 189, and 187 this year,” she said.
Luckey said overall it was a really good year.
“We had a lot of hunters and a lot of bears. The hunters reported seeing lots of sows with two and three cubs,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be a shortage here.”
Farther east in the U.P. in Schoolcraft County, the kill was lower than average.
“It seemed like it was a little slow this year,” said Janice Whitehead, of Forest Glen General Store, a bear check station in Wetmore. “We only registered 18 bears this year and we usually register in the high 20s. From what I heard from hunters, it was down all over.”
That seemed to be the theme in Chippewa County, too.
“Our bear season was down about 30 percent,” said Tom Ball, owner of Wilderness Treasures, a bear check station in Pickford. “It was kind of strange, but we didn’t get many bears coming in late in the season.”
The official results from the 2013 bear-hunting season should be available next month.