Bear season begins in earnest on Monday, Aug. 29, and it is likely to be another productive year for hunters.
That prediction is based on the reported decreased abundance or quality of natural food sources for bears, which should be out searching for food and thus more susceptible to harvest by bait hunters. Dry conditions in much of Maine have led to smaller crops of beech nuts, acorns and berries.
“Based on past alternate cycles in natural foods, we anticipate that the 2022 season will provide more opportunity to take a bear with the aid of bait and overall higher harvest but less opportunity to hunt over natural food sources or harvest a bear later in the season with bears entering the dens early,” according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Can you guess which towns or townships produced the most black bears last season?
Topping the list in 2021 was Eagle Lake, where 47 bears were taken. Aroostook County accounted for 1,103 bears, which represented 29 percent of the overall kill.
Deblois in Washington County produced 31 bears as did Bethel in western Maine. Wesley, also Down East, produced 29 bears a year ago.
Other hot spots in the County include R14 R7 WELS (24), which is just south of Eagle Lake, and Fort Fairfield (24) along with Mars Hill (21), T7 R4 WELS (19) and Saint Francis (18).
The number of bears killed in Maine, an average of 3,249 over the past five seasons, has been strong each of the past two years.
In 2021, driven by a 10 percent overall increase in Maine hunting license sales and a 10 percent bump in the number of nonresident bear hunting permits, hunters killed 3,779 bears. That ranked just behind 2020, when the 3,883 bears taken represented the fifth highest harvest since DIF&W began keeping records in 1969.
Registered Maine Guides report seeing plenty of bears this summer at their bait sites and during dog hunting trials.
DIF&W data from last year shows that among the 3,779 bears killed, 2,063 were males and 1,716 were females. Hunters were made up of 2,331 nonresidents and 1,448 Mainers.
The high nonresident harvest ratio (62 percent) is tied to those hunters’ use of guide services, which are plentiful in the state. In all, 93 percent of nonresident bear hunters utilized the services of a guide, while only 29 percent of Maine hunters did so.
Guided hunters accounted for 83 percent of the bears killed using dogs, 70 percent of those taken over bait and 20 percent of the animals that were trapped.
Wildlife Management District 8, generally the area west of Moosehead Lake to the Canadian border, produced the most bears, with 347. It was followed by WMD 11 (321), WMD 6 (305), WMD 18 (254), WMD 3 (250), WMD 18 (254) and WMD 28 (248).
Last year, bears were killed in 14 of the state’s 16 counties and in 27 of 29 WMDs.
In gauging the density of the harvest — bears killed per 100 square miles of forested land — WMDs 3 and 6 (both in Aroostook County), WMD 12 (Oxford/Franklin) and WDM 28 (Washington) were the hot spots. In those zones, hunters took between 25 and 35 bears per 100 square miles.
By contrast, no bears were harvested in Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties, nor in WMDs 22 and 24. However, the statewide average of 13 bears per 100 square miles last year was higher than normal.
Bear season starts Saturday with youth day for hunters age 16 and under. Last year, a record 51 hunters shot a bear on youth day.