Five years ago, Larry Pifke of Iron River caught this bear on his trail camera and later harvested it on Sept. 10. It weighed 588 pounds. (Ziegler photo)
By Bill Ziegler for the Iron County Reporter
IRON COUNTY—Michigan’s bear season opens Saturday, Sept. 10. This year’s bear hunters can expect to find a bear population in the Western Upper Peninsula “that has decreased” said DNR Wildlife Upper Peninsula Bear Specialist Kevin Swanson of Marquette.
Swanson stressed that it should be a good season, especially for bait hunters, with less hunters in the woods as a result of a decrease in bear hunting permits issued.
He stated that the soft mast crop (berries, wild cherries etc.) was poor this year, and bears travel great distances on a regular basis to obtain food vs. species such as deer. As a result, bait hunters should have a good chance of luring in bears. He expects it to be a good season for those hunters that were lucky enough to secure a hunting permit.
There are three overlapping bear seasons where successful hunters are determined by a DNR lottery.
The first bear season runs from Sept. 10 to Oct. 21. The second and third seasons run from Sept. 15 to Oct. 26 and Sept. 25 to Oct. 26, respectively.
Most bear hunters would ideally like to obtain a permit for the first season.
There are less bear hunting permits available in the Amasa Bear Unit than other surrounding bear units.
The Amasa Bear Unit is the “one of the most oversubscribed units in the state” according to Bob Doepker, DNR wildlife biologist in Norway.
As a result, some annual first season applicants have been waiting six years for a first season Amasa Bear Unit permit. The upside is that the success rate is been better in the Amasa Bear Unit, according to Swanson.
The DNR Wildlife Division determines the bear population, and subsequently the bear harvest quotas, from their bear population estimate survey.
The estimate is based on tetracycline marking of bears’ teeth and recovery of marked bears with a mandatory 72 hour successful bear hunter registration of the bear.
The bear must be brought to a DNR field office or cooperating bear registration stations so that bear teeth revealing age and marking information can be recovered by the bear registration personnel.
“Local wildlife managers also provide input to bear harvest quotas depending on what their local management goals are,” said Adam Bump, Michigan DNR bear specialist from Lansing.
“In some units managers may want to increase or maintain a higher bear population, which also plays into the overall harvest quota,” according to Bump. Bear hunters also have influence in meetings to help determine harvest rates.
Swanson confirmed there is significant disagreement between most dog hunters who believe that the U.P. bear population is low and many bait hunters who believe the opposite about the bear population.
The Western Upper Peninsula is broken up into five bear units: Amasa, Baraga, Bergland, Carney and Gwinn.
The units and a summary of bear seasons, rules, bear registration stations and information are outlined in the 2012 Michigan Bear Hunting Digest, which is available at most hunting license dealers.
The entire 2012 bear license quotas for each unit are as follows: Amasa – 505 (640 in 2011), Baraga –1,620 (2,295 in 2011), Bergland – 1,265 (1,345 in 2011), Carney – 815 (1,200 in 2011) and Gwinn – 1,250 (1,735 in 2011).
Obviously, it is much harder to draw a bear permit in Amasa, so prospective bear hunters with flexibility on hunting sites should look to other units to increase the odds of drawing a permit.
Bear hunters typically either bait the bears or run them with dogs.
Dog hunters are limited to hunting Sept. 15 or after in the Upper Peninsula. Eighty-five percent of bear hunters use only bait as their hunting method according to Bump.
Typically bait hunters use bulk sweets like frosting, jelly, confectioneries, yogurt, molasses, etc., although the list is numerous. Bait material is often available at sports shops and some commercial bear bait dealers that set up business seasonally.
You should consult the Bear Hunting Digest for the rules applying to legally baiting bear.
Contrary to some old misconceptions, bear meat is good table fare provided it is handled properly.
Successful hunters should dress and cool the bear immediately in warmer periods, cooling the meat to 32 to 40 degrees F and keeping the meat clean and free from insects.
The bear hunt drawings operate on a preference point system.
Unsuccessful bear season applicants are given a preference point for each year they apply, but are not drawn for a harvest tag.
The Bear Hunting Digest contains a table where applicants can see how many preference points it took last year to obtain a bear permit for each season and unit.
For example in 2012 to draw a first season permit in the Amasa Bear Unit, it took six (five in 2011) preference points.
The same season in the Bergland and Baraga Bear Units took three preference points
The third season in Amasa took only one point and zero points in the Bergland Unit.
Obviously, if you want to receive a bear hunting permit regularly you need to apply for the third season when the bears may be more nocturnal and some quality bears have been harvested.
Remember, it is illegal to take a cub or female (sow) with cubs, so care should be taken that the bear is large enough to be an adult and without cubs.
Since there is no way for a hunter to determine the sex of a live bear, they should take the necessary steps to make sure that cubs are not nearby.
If you need more information on bear hunting and regulations, refer to the Michigan Bear Hunting Digest or call Michigan DNR at Baraga (906) 353-6651 or Crystal Falls (906) 875-6622.
The DNR also has a bear web site at www.michigan.gov/dnr.
(Bill Ziegler is a resident of Crystal Falls, an area sportsman and recently retired Michigan DNR Fisheries Management biologist for the southwest U.P. for the last 24 years. For 10 years before that, he was a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service primarily working in the U.P., northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.)