Wisconsin Bear Season To Open Sept. 3rd

Wi Dept. of Natural Resources, Bear Hunting Magazine

The 2008 black bear hunting season opens Sept. 3 amid speculation that harvest opportunities will be enhanced in 2009. "Hunting prospects should be good this fall," said Keith Warnke, big-game biologist for the Department of Natural Resource. "There are a lot of bear out there."

A two-year study undertaken by the DNR and Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association indicated after the first year that the state's bear population may be double the current estimate of 13,000. "We won't have the final results of that study until October," Warnke said. "But it does appear there are more bear than our current population model shows. That's what led us to undertake the study. We needed more information."

Bear hunters view the study as impetus for the DNR to issue more harvest permits in the future, but it won't necessarily follow that doubling the bear population will double the number of permits. "Other factors must be considered," Warnke said, including the ability of the land to support a given number of bear and the willingness of the public to coexist with that volume. Agricultural damage and nuisance claims attributed to bear will be considered. Biologists must also determine if the bear population is under control or expanding under the current volume of permits.

Discussions on 2009 bear harvest quotas and permit levels will be held in November, "but a long-term plan will take longer to put together," Warnke said. The department issued 4,660 permits this year, anticipating a harvest of about 3,000 bears in four zones. With 4,405 permits a year ago, hunters registered 2,797 bears, an overall success rate of 61.5 percent.

There is little doubt bear are common in traditional bear ranges. In the three prime northern zones (A, B and D), hunter success rates topped 77 percent. In Zone C (approximately the southern 2/3 of the state) the success rate was 36 percent.

Bait-only bear hunters get a head start of a week this year on those who hunt with dogs. In Zone C, the season runs Sept. 3 to Oct. 7, and hunting with dogs is prohibited. In Zones A, B and D (formerly Zone A1), the season runs Sept. 3-30 for baiters only and Sept. 10-Oct. 7 for hunters with hounds.

Baiting is the accepted method of hunting bear in Wisconsin, and hunting is considered the primary method of controlling the bear population. Bear hunters have been putting out bait (typically outdated bakery products) for more than a month in many areas of the state. Those with dogs use bait to attract bear as a starting point for their dogs to begin tracking. Those who bait without dogs hope a bear will become a regular visitor to their spread and come within bow or gun range.

"The amount of mast (acorns) on the landscape can impact the effectiveness of baiting," Warnke said. "Bear will shift over to natural food sources if it's available and reduce the frequency at which they hit bait. I haven't noticed much in the way of an acorn crop in northern counties but there is a pretty good acorn crop in southern and central counties."

Healthy acorns typically begin dropping from oak trees in late August or early September, just about the time bear season opens. A lack of acorns, berries and other natural foods can make bait more attractive to bear. On the other hand, the availability of agricultural products may draw bear away from bait.

Bow hunters who use bait to attract deer occasionally discover a bear has claimed the food pile of corn or apples. Some archers have spent anxious hours after dark in a tree stand waiting for a possessive bear to leave.

"Remain silent and watch the bear," Warnke advises treed hunters. "The bear doesn't have malicious intent. If a sow has cubs, you don't want to get between her and the cubs. If you make a strange noise, the first thing she will do is send her cubs up a tree (then look to defend them). "So you don't want to alarm her. You want to let her finish what she's doing (eating) and get on her way."

While black bear in Wisconsin can become a property nuisance, they rarely have posed a threat to humans. It is illegal for a deer hunter without a bear harvest permit to shoot a bear. It is also illegal for a bear hunter to shoot a sow with cubs.

An adult male bear, which is typically larger than an adult female, may retreat once it realizes a deer hunter is present. If not, the archer should wait for the bear to leave, Warnke said. When a bear regularly visits a deer hunters bait site, it deters deer and frustrates the hunter.

"Once a deer hunter realizes a bear has taken over his bait location, the hunter has the choice of removing the bait or moving the bait and stand to a new location," Warnke said.

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