Prospects good for Wisconsin’s bear hunting season that opens Sept. 3

Discussion in 'Frontpage News' started by Steve, Aug 26, 2008.

  1. Steve

    Steve Staff Member

    Prospects good for Wisconsin’s bear hunting season that opens Sept. 3

    EAU CLAIR, Wis. -- In the Northwoods hazelnuts are ripening, cherries are packed with sugar and the oaks are setting up for what could be the biggest acorn drop in years. Nights are cool, the days crisp.
    Black bears
    WDNR Photo

    These are all signals that an exciting time is near for bear hunters. Weeks of hard work and preparation come to a climax Sept. 3 with the opening of the five-week, 2008 bear season.
    The state Department of Natural Resources issued 4,660 harvest permits this year, an increase of 255 permits from the 2007 hunt. Most of these hunters will be scattered widely across the northern third of the state, pursuing a healthy and growing population of black bears.
    Bear hunters need a lot of room.
    “It’s square miles per hunter, not hunters per square mile,” said DNR wildlife biologist Greg Kessler, whose office in Brule is deep into bear country.
    In heavily forested northern Wisconsin, where opportunities for long rifle shots are rare, most bear hunters either use dogs to find and chase their quarry, or they draw bears to a specific location by maintaining a bear bait in the weeks before the season opens. Such baits (moldy sweet rolls work well) are covered by heavy rocks or other objects so that only a bear can access them.
    Because these two styles of hunting don’t easily co-exist, an annual trade-off was created to alternately favor hound trainers and bait hunters by restricting the first week of the season to one or the other.
    This year, hunters who have been maintaining bear baits, or who hunt by other means than the use of dogs, get the first shot. Although they are a small minority, there are hunters who eschew the aid of dogs or bait and either position themselves over natural food sources or attempt to stalk bears on foot.
    Those who hunt with the aid of dogs begin their 2008 season on Sept. 10. As part of this annual trade-off, those hunters with the late start get the fifth and final week to themselves.
    Hunters who do hunt with dogs should note that 16 hounds have been killed by wolves in northern Wisconsin during the dog training period this year. Wolf packs with pups use rendezvous sites from mid June to late September. Adult wolves are defensive of pups at rendezvous sites and will attack other predators, including dogs, that get too close to the rendezvous site or pups. Bear hunters with dogs are encouraged to check the list of caution areas for bear dogs. The list along with maps of the caution areas are available on the DNR Web site.
    “Most bears are harvested the first week,” said DNR wildlife biologist Linda Olver in Madison who keeps a close eye on the numbers.
    None of this has reduced interest in bear hunting. In 2008, a record 86,113 individuals applied for the bear season. Of these, 35,895 requested a harvest permit. The remaining 50,218 applied for a preference point, moving them one year closer to the total that will guarantee them a tag.
    “For many hunters, going through the process of scouting and preparing and then watching the hunt is more important than pulling the trigger,” Kessler said.
    Many applicants are members of informal bear-hunting groups who seek to improve the odds that at least one member of the group will draw a tag. There are three zones across the northern third of the state: D, A and B, moving from west to east. Zone C covers the lower two-thirds.
    The minimum number of preference points to draw a kill tag in Zone D or Zone A was seven. In Zone B, hunters waited 10 or 11 years for a tag. In Zone C, south of traditional bear country, the wait is four to five years.
    Many of these “hunters in waiting” assist their friends in the weeks before the season and then accompany them during the hunt.
    In 2007, the DNR set a quota of 2,650 bear and issued 4,405 harvest permits. The actual harvest was 2,797 bears.
    After years of drought in the north, a cooler and moister summer has made life easier for bears. Cool, moist weather is good for dogs, holding scents on the ground and making long runs through the woods less punishing.
    It’s a mixed bag for bait hunters. A plentitude of berries and nuts means bears are less interested in the baits humans set out. Nuts and acorns on the forest floor, called “mast,” are a bear’s primary source of fat.
    To survive a long, cold winter curled up in its den, a bear needs to put on 20 to 30 percent of its weight in fat, and if the ground is thick with acorns, that will be their first choice. With bear bait, as in real estate, the mantra will be, “location, location, location.”
    “Some baits will be good because there isn’t much mast around them,” said DNR wildlife ecologist Keith Warnke. “Other baits will be poor because they are surrounded by mast.”
    On the other hand, the cool spring means fruit is ripening a couple weeks behind the usual schedule this year, so bears are likely to remain active deeper into the hunting season.
    As in the past, hunters who work hard at pre-season scouting and who arrange alternate hunting locations well in advance of the season have a better chance. Odds are better as well for hunters who tough it out, Kessler said.
    “With bait hunters, even if there is a good acorn crop, if they persist, they will have opportunity.”
    More information about black bears and bear hunting is available on the DNR Web site.
    FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Linda Olver – 608-261-7588 or Keith Warnke – 608-264-6023
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