Before bear-hunting season began on Aug. 31, state wildlife officials predicted that a shortage of natural foods would make bears more apt to visit the bait sites where hunters would be waiting. Two guides say that’s exactly what has happened, and more bears have been tagged already this year than were taken in the full season a year ago.
As of Thursday morning, after just 2 1/2 weeks of hunting, hunters have already tagged 2,649 bears. That’s more bears than were tagged throughout all of the seasons — bait, hounds, trapping and without the aid of any of those techniques — in 2019 when a total of 2,370 bears were tagged.
Paul Laney, who owns Laney’s Guide Service in Grand Lake Stream, said before the season that he was booked up for the entire season, including three weeks of hunting over bait, and six weeks of hunting with hounds.
Earlier this week he said his hunters have been having a banner year.
“To date we have harvested 31 bears,” Laney said on Wednesday. “The largest was 387 [pounds]. We had a bunch more over 300 and several in the upper 200s. Pretty much all of our clients have seen bears.”
Laney said that the bears have been healthy-looking and fat, but he’s confident that their natural food supplies are running short, which will drive them into their dens early this year, as biologists have predicted.
“Some of the recent stomachs we have examined are already full of grass. [It’s] going to make for tougher October hound hunting,” Laney said. “I usually end up hiking with dogs into natural feed areas which is my favorite way to hunt bears.”
Over on Route 9, Matt Whitegiver, owner of Eagle Mountain Guide Service in Township 24, said his clients have had plenty of opportunities to fill their tags.
Six of seven hunters during the first week of the season shot bears, he said.
“Everyone had multiple opportunities for everyone,” Whitegiver said. “As did [hunters during the] second week. But second-week shooters didn’t shoot as well as the first week.”
But he said that the bears are remaining active.
“Halfway through [the] third week, baits are still being slammed,” he said.
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, since 2005 the annual bear harvest has ranged from just below 2,400 to 3,486 bears. The stated management goal has been a harvest level of about 5,000 bears, which would allow biologists to stabilize the state’s bear population.
Because hunters have been removing far fewer bears from the landscape than Maine citizens have determined is optimal, the state’s bear population has grown to about 35,000 over the past 15 years, according to Nate Webb, the DIF&W’s wildlife division director.
Maine’s general bear hunting season runs from Aug. 31 until Nov. 28, but different techniques and tactics are allowed at different times. The season for hunting bears over bait runs from Aug. 31 until Sept. 26. Hunters using dogs can do so between Sept. 14 and Oct. 30, while trapping bears is legal from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31. And Youth Bear Day was Aug. 29.