Mixed reports on bear harvest
Albany — New York hunters are apparently taking full advantage of expending bear hunting opportunities across much of the state this season.
Whether that translates to a higher overall bruin kill, however, remains to be seen.
DEC officials reported that as of Nov. 30, the statewide bear harvest figures were showing some mixed results – higher than last year in the Northern Zone and southeastern New York, but down in western New York.
DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said about 1,120 bear kills had been reported as of Nov. 30, including about 760 from the Southern Zone, which this year saw bear hunting opportunities expanded zone-wide and also include an early season in several southeastern New York wildlife management units.
“Compared to bear harvest reports through the same date in 2013, reporting levels are up about 30 percent in the Northern Zone, down about 30 percent in western New York, and up about 20 percent in the southeast,” he said. “Final tallies, though, will also include harvest data collected by our staff and cooperating taxidermists across the state.”
Given the expanded season and hunting areas, New York hunters saw better-than-ever opportunities to harvest a black bear this season – at least on paper.
A special early offering Sept. 6-21 was created in several wildlife management units (3A, 3C, 3H, 3J, 3K, 3M, 3P, 3R, 4P and 4R) in the Catskills and western Hudson Valley. That move was made in an effort to trim bruin numbers through hunter harvest.
But DEC has also seen its bear management efforts bogged down somewhat by a lack of interest in hunting the state’s biggest of big-game animals. Most bears killed each year are taken by deer hunters who happen to encounter a bruin while pursuing whitetails.
Many other hunters pass on shooting a bear when the opportunity arises, not wanting to take time – and a lot of effort – from their deer hunt.
In the Northern Zone, four more WMUs – 6A, 6G, 6K and 6N – were opened for bear hunting this season. Those units lie in the St. Lawrence Valley and the Tug Hill area.
Bear hunting is now allowed in all of the Southern Zone.
Hurst said it’s too early to determine the impact of the special early bear season in parts of the Catskills and Hudson Valley.
“We know that about 250 bears were reported during that time period, but we don’t yet know whether the sex ratio of the harvest was different during that season or if the extra opportunity resulted in an overall greater harvest, or just shifted when bears were taken,” he said. “We’ll explore those questions as we finish collecting all the harvest data.”
Still, there’s some indications the expanded bear offerings have had the desired effect. Hurst said hunters took “a handful” of bears in the units opened to bear hunting for the first time, including two in WMU 8G, a half dozen in Mohawk Valley units 6R and 6S, and “a few” from the Tug Hill area (WMU 6N) and several others in St. Lawrence County’s WMU 6A.
“As with other harvest data, we’ll get more concrete numbers as the bear check information filters back from staff and taxidermists,” Hurst said.
Several big bruins were taken, notably a 585-pounder shot in Greene County by Tim Meservey.
New York hunters last year killed 1,358 bears, the third highest harvest on record. The Southeastern area accounted for 636 of those kills, a record for that region. Another 342 were taken in the Central-Western area, which was the second-highest harvest ever in that region. In the Adirondacks, 380 bears were killed, which was below the five-year average as the early-season take of just 84 bruins was down sharply.
Most of the state’s highest bear kills – 1,864 in 2003; 1,487 in 2009 and 1,358 last year – have occurred in recent years. The harvest hasn’t fallen below 1,000 bruins since the 2006 take of 796.