A few weeks ago wildlife biologist Randy Cross was cautious when he described the conditions bear hunters might find in the Maine woods this season.
After nearly two weeks of hunting, it seems that Cross’s prediction might be coming true.
“Typically with bear hunting we have strong bait years and weak bait-hunting years,” said Cross, who oversees the bear research field crews for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “This would be anticipated to be a weak bait-hunting year.”
At Old Town Trading Post, that seems to have been the case thus far, as proprietor Dave Hanson reported on Thursday that he’d seen plenty of bear hunters, but not many bears since the season began.
As of midday on Thursday, Hanson had tagged just three bears in a week and a half; that, despite sitting in the shop until 9 p.m. most nights, just in case a local outfitter or hunter needed to tag a bear they’d just shot.
Cross said there would be plenty of bears in the woods, but those bears might be a bit picky this year.
“The number one overriding factor [that contributes to bait hunting success] is the availability and abundance of natural food,” Cross said.
A wet spring followed by a damp summer has led to bumper berry crops, which the bears have been feeding on. With that natural food handy, the bears are more averse to taking bait they may associate with human activity.
Up in Eagle Lake, guide Tenley Bennett, who runs Fish River Lodge with her husband, Wayne Bennett, reported that it seemed Cross was on the mark.
“Our hunters are seeing bears but due to all the natural feed (wild and choke cherries, and hazelnuts, for example, up here in Eagle Lake), the bears are not that interested in our bait sites,” Tenley Bennett wrote. “Our hunters have reported bears walking through the bait site but not stopping to feed. Bears are smaller than average this year and some of our long-time clients are passing on smaller bears. Our success rate is down accordingly.”
But down in Grand Lake Stream, Paul Laney of Laney’s Guide Service says the sheer abundance of bears has tipped the scales in his clients’ favor.
“We did well the first week, [with] eight hunters. Harvested five, missed one,” Laney wrote. All of his hunters saw bears; those shot weighed 150 to 200 pounds.
“[We’re] doing about the same this week. The baits have been getting hit very good all along, even at the peak of berry season. I credit that to a very high bear population,” Laney wrote. “They are thriving. I am running 90 bait sites and they all have between one and six bears tending them. I have seen more bears just traveling around this year than any other year I can remember.”
A quick note: Despite a rumored 500-pounder being taken somewhere in Maine, nobody’s stepped forward with a big bear tale thus far this season. If you’ve got one, I’m here to listen.