REGIONAL— Cautious optimism is the general rule for area bear guides, even as the abundance of natural foods in the woods appears to be reducing interest in their baits. The bear season gets …
REGIONAL— Cautious optimism is the general rule for area bear guides, even as the abundance of natural foods in the woods appears to be reducing interest in their baits. The bear season gets underway this Friday, Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 15.
Late August is a time of intense activity for bears as they feed aggressively to put on weight ahead of their winter hibernation. Hunters and guides typically start baiting in mid-August in hopes of establishing regular visits from a harvestable bear near their hunting stands. That can be a tougher task in years when natural foods are found in abundance.
And that’s been the story this summer, with good crops of juneberries, blueberries and raspberries beginning in July, followed by a huge crop of chokecherries and wild plums.
“The juneberries were totally awesome,” said longtime bear guide Dennis Udovich, who was preparing this week for the start of the season. He’ll be hosting 12 clients this year and said he’ll be urging patience. While he’s seeing good numbers of bears, like most area guides, he strongly urges his clients to be selective about the bears they take, avoiding females with cubs and young bears.
Cook area bear guide Jesse Brunner, who is maintaining baits for seven clients, said he’s finding some interested bears, but not the level of interest as in some years. “About 95 percent of my baits are being hit, but they just come in and take some. They can pick and choose this year.”
Bob Derr, who guides hunters in the Ely area, said he was initially optimistic with the number of hits on the 24 baits he’s maintaining for his eight clients, until he put trail cams where he had hits and found they were mostly yearlings and sows with cubs. He’s since found a few nicer bears coming in as well, which has buoyed his optimism. He said interest in baits typically increases as August winds down and bears kick their already aggressive search for food into higher gear.
Derr said interest in his baits hasn’t been limited to bears. “Pretty much every bait is being hit by wolves,” he said. While many guides use a mix of scents, sweets, and grease, to attract bears, he said wolves are often more than happy to eat cookies and candy. “They’re just like a dog,” he said. While other animals will often take an interest in bear baits, Derr said that can actually help his cause, since they spread some of the scents he uses around the woods as they come and go.
Hunters can probably use the help this year. “Locally, we have had pretty good bear foods,” said Jessica Holmes, Tower area DNR wildlife manager. That’s been good news for wildlife managers so far this year. “Our nuisance bear complaints have declined dramatically since mid-June,” said Holmes. “It’s going to be a bit harder for hunters,” she added, predicting that the harvest will be impacted. That could put it in line with last year’s harvest numbers, which was another strong food year for bears.
“Hunters should be flexible in the types of baits they use,” said Holmes. “And they’ll need to be patient.”
As with most hunting, the weather can play a significant role and the forecast of temperatures in the 80s for the first five days of the season is giving the guides pause. “When it’s hot the bears don’t move around as much,” said Brunner. Udovich agrees, and said hot weather can push bears to be more active at night, after legal hours.
“That’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night,” said Udovich.
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