In one bear camp, hunters and guides are reportedly “swamped by bears.” In another, a longtime guide says he’s enjoying another banner season. But at two bear-tagging stations in central and eastern Maine, numbers are lagging as the state’s second week of hunting bears over bait ends.
So, what to make of the first two weeks of this year’s season? It depends on whom you ask.
“There really isn’t such a thing as an average bear season as far as I can tell,” Randy Cross, the field crew leader of the DIF&W’s bear study said in an e-mail this week. “Each seems to have its own special quirks, small surprises even, that makes it unique and interesting.”
The two primary factors that affect bear activity over a bait, and hunter success, are the availability of natural food and the weather.
“You could say it all has to do with the weather because the weather [rainfall or lack of it, hot or cold temperatures, early or late frosts, deep snow pack or snow pack] are what influences the abundance of all the foods that bears forage on in late summer and early fall,” Cross wrote.
This year’s mild spring and dry summer led to many natural foods maturing early. That, Cross and guides maintain, should have made bears more susceptible to baiting.
And in some cases, it has.
“It’s been spectacular [bear hunting],” said guide Wayne Bosowicz of Foggy Mountain Guide Service in Sebec. “I think I’ve been in the bear business since 1964 and I haven’t seen so many bears in all my life.”
Bosowicz said he had about 20 hunters in camp last week — the first of the four-week bait season — and all but three tagged bears. One of those bears weighed 445 pounds.
“The activity on bait has been really busy because all the berries are a month ahead. The activity on bait has been fantastic,” Bosowicz said.
That success came despite a four-day run of 90-degree temperatures. Most bear observers say that bruins are more apt to hunker down during extremely hot weather, then wait until the cooler evening hours to forage.
“I expected [bait activity] to die last week with Hurricane Earl and temps in the 90s, but it was great,” Bosowicz said.
Weather may have been more of a factor Down East, where Marie Laney and her husband, Paul, work in Grand Lake Stream.
Laney, who is guiding bear hunters with her husband, as well as working at the local Pine Tree Store, said the first two weeks of the season have been a bit slow.
“We’ve tagged 12 bear [at Pine Tree Store],” she said on Friday. “Last week the weather was in the 90s and the bears didn’t show that well. There were only six bears tagged last week. They’re showing better now.”
Laney said Pine Tree Store tagged a total of 30 bears in 2009.
The Laneys also specialize in hound hunts for bears. With that season set to start on Monday, Marie Laney was optimistic that hunting conditions would improve.
“I foresee the dog season probably being better than the bait season, just because of the weather,” she said.
Over in Old Town, Dave Hanson, proprietor of Old Town Trading Post, also said tagging activity has been a bit slow.
“It’s low, for sure. [As of Friday morning we’ve tagged] 14,” Hanson said. “That’s way down from last year. I would guess that’s primarily because of the hot weather last week.”
Hanson estimated that the store tagged between 60 and 70 bears during last year’s season.
Ask a few more hunters or guides or biologists about the season as it progresses, and you’re likely to get an earful of varied opinions.
But Cross is used to that.
“From what I’m seeing, my impression is it hasn’t been fantastic or horrible so far,” Cross wrote. “Maybe a little worse than last early season on bait, but better than the year before.”
With that said, Cross admits that relying on the recollections of hunters to gauge a particular season can be a tricky business.
The most important season, it seems, is the one that’s taking place right here, right now.
“I’ve found that many bear hunters’ memories are very short and [it] does little good to say ‘This season reminds me of ’84, or even ’99,” Cross wrote.