Maine’s bear season begins on Monday, Aug. 28 throughout the state of Maine, and youth hunters get their own day on Saturday, Aug. 26. Last year, 10,936 hunters purchased a permit to hunt bear, with 2,859 hunters harvesting a bear for a success rate of 26 percent.
“Conditions look promising for hunters to have a better year than last year, but just how successful hunters are depends on the abundance of natural foods and how long those natural foods remain available,” said Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife bear biologist Jen Vashon.
Maine’s black bear population is closely monitored by department biologists through one of the most extensive, longest-running biological studies in the U.S. The study began in 1975 and continues today. Over nearly 40 years, department biologists have captured and tracked more than 3,000 bears to determine the health and condition of Maine’s bears and estimate how many cubs are born each year.
“Over that time, our research has shown that when natural foods are in low supply, hunters have more success taking a bear since bears are more likely to seek out other food sources,” said Vashon.
Maine’s bear season is divided into three segments, as hunters can hunt with bait from Aug. 28 to Sept. 23, hunters can hunt with dogs from Sept. 11 to Oct. 27, and hunters can still hunt or stalk bear from Aug. 28 to Nov. 25. Maine has one of the longest bear seasons in the U.S., since Maine has one of the largest bear populations, estimated at more than 36,000 animals. In addition to a season that starts in August and ends after Thanksgiving, Maine allows hunters to take two bears, one by hunting and one by trapping.
In 2016, hunters harvested 2,859 bears and 68 percent were taken over bait, 21 percent with dogs, 2 percent by deer hunters, 1 percent by still-hunting or stalking prior to deer season, and 4 percent in traps. The remaining 4 percent was taken without the method of harvest being reported.
Even with the lengthy bear season, only about 25 percent of all bear hunters are successful. By contrast, 75 percent of moose hunters were successful last year, turkey hunters enjoy success rates from 30-35 percent, and deer hunters in Maine are successful 14-18 percent of the time.
Young hunters will once again get their own day on Aug. 26. Youth hunters who have a junior hunting license can hunt bear with a firearm, bow, or crossbow on this day. Youth hunters may hunt bear with the use of bait, or still-hunt; however, the use of dogs during Youth Bear Hunting Day is prohibited. Last year, 27 youth hunters were successful in taking a bear on youth day.
Youth hunters may hunt only in the presence of an adult supervisor who is at least 18 years of age. The adult supervisor may not possess a firearm, bow, or crossbow while the youth hunter is participating in the bear hunt. Any person who accompanies a junior hunter other than the parent or guardian, must either possess a valid adult hunting license or have successfully completed a hunter education course.
While the abundance of natural foods this year is likely to impact hunters, in-state research shows that it is also what drives nuisance bear complaints. In years when there is a good natural food crop, the numbers of complaints drop. In poor natural food years, nuisance complaints increase.
Over a span of 40 years, Maine’s bear study has shown that not only does the availability of natural foods drive bear cub survival and bear birth rates, but it also directly influences when bears den for the winter, as well as hunter success rates. In poor natural food years, hunter success is higher than in years when natural food is abundant.
Successful bear hunters are reminded that it is mandatory to submit a tooth from their bear when registering. Tagging agents will provide envelopes and instructions to hunters as to how to remove the tooth. Biologists age the tooth, and the biological data collected help biologists adjust season lengths and bag limits for bears. In August, hunters can learn the age of the bear they harvested the previous season by going to maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/bear/index.htm.
Hunters and trappers must have a bear permit in addition to a big-game hunting or trapping license to harvest a bear in Maine. However, during the deer firearm season, resident hunters can harvest a bear without a bear permit. Bear hunting is most popular and bear populations are the densest in the northern and downeast regions of the state.