Montana Spring Bear Season Opens April 15thGreat Falls News, Bear Hunting Magazine
Bear hunters in Montana will have to cope with nearly normal snowpack high in the Little Belts. At lower elevations snow is melting. Low snowpack and mild weather in much of the rest of the state indicates that bears, at least the boars, have emerged or soon will emerge from their dens.
"This year's early mild temperatures suggest bears will be out and about soon," said Kevin Frey, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear manager in the Bozeman area.
In the Libby area in northwest Montana, FWP bear manager Kim Annis said she wonders if last year's mild, wet spring and good berry crop will boomerang to bring an "off year" for huckleberries in 2010, as superstitious berry pickers often claim.
"Bear conflicts were greatly reduced last year because bears had plenty to eat," Annis said, "but every year isn't a good berry year."
Missoula area bear manager Jamie Jonkel said he is keeping a close watch on the weather.
"There is nothing worse for bears than a heavy frost in late May," he said. "A freeze at the wrong time can wipe out the service berry, hawthorn and chokecherry crops that keep western Montana's bears in the mountains and away from communities."
Frey said he hopes for a few good spring storms, similar to those in 2008 and 2009, to keep bears dormant a little while longer.
"If bears emerge from their dens too early there is little or no natural food for them," Frey said. "Often they will return where they found food last fall. If that place was your yard, you're likely to see that bear again soon."
In northcentral Montana area black bear hunters as well as the general public need to be alert for grizzly bears, which are expanding their territory.
Bear management experts from a variety of agencies met in Great Falls in March to discuss the expanding grizzly populations. "We fully expect more people to see grizzly bears on the plains and in riparian areas where we've not seen grizzlies in recent times" said Gary Bertellotti, FWP Region 4 supervisor in Great Falls. "It is a new experience to see grizzly bears near Loma, along the Sun River near Simms, along the Marias River south of Shelby and in Wolf Creek. Local reactions seem to range from panic to awe."
Black bears leave their dens in mid-April and the boars generally leave the dens first. Montana's spring bear hunting season is set up so that hunters and boar are out earlier than sows with cubs.
Hunters must purchase their bear licenses by April 14 or wait five days after purchasing a tag before heading out to hunt.