REGIONAL— A dry end to the summer meant bear hunters had the advantage, and that was apparent in the registrations through the first ten days of the 2019 bear season. Hunters reported harvesting …
REGIONAL— A dry end to the summer meant bear hunters had the advantage, and that was apparent in the registrations through the first ten days of the 2019 bear season. Hunters reported harvesting 1,714 bears through Sept. 9, a 45-percent increase over the same period last year.
While the bear season continues through Oct. 13, the season is already over for most hunters by this point in the season. Typically, the reported harvest at this point represents about three-quarters of the final tally, which means hunters should finish up very close to the DNR’s predicted harvest of 2,000 bears. “It looks like we’ll be right on target,” said Tower Area Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch.
The higher harvest is likely to push any bear recovery off at least another year. That’s especially so given that about 40 percent of the harvested bears were females, meaning hunters took a whack at the state’s breeding population. “We’d like the percentage of females harvested to be as low as possible,” said Rusch. “We’d like to see it under 25 percent if possible.”
The DNR estimates the state’s current bear population at 12,000-15,000. That’s about half the number of bears that roamed the state’s forests 15 years ago and is below the DNR’s goal of 20,000. The state’s bear population remains under goal, in part because of the higher-than-desirable harvest of females, or sows.
One of the challenges of lowering the sow harvest is the difficulty of telling males from females. “It’s not like the males have antlers that make it obvious,” said Rusch. The presence of cubs is the primary method that many hunters use to distinguish the sexes, and ethical hunters generally won’t shoot a sow with young. But sows in northern Minnesota often don’t begin breeding until at least age four, and that can leave them vulnerable to harvest before they ever have a chance to reproduce. The average age of a harvested black bear in Minnesota is just four years old, a statistic that points to a population under intensive hunting pressure.
Longtime bear hunting guide Dennis Udovich said it’s definitely possible to distinguish a male from the female bear, with or without cubs, and he stresses the importance of avoiding the harvest of sows with all of his clients.
Udovich’s clients did well this year, with 13 of 14 taking bears. Of those 13, just three were females, according to Udovich.
Rusch said he may look at opportunities to better inform hunters of ways to distinguish between male and female bears, in hopes of reducing the sow harvest in the future.