Nov 01 2014
By Al Raychard
Hunting Season Dates:
BMZs A, B and D-September 3-September 9
with aid of bait and other methods not using dogs. September 10-September 30 with dogs and bait
October1-October 7 with dogs only
BMZ C-September 3-October 7 with bait and all legal methods not using dogs.
Spring Season: No
Issued through a Preference Point System. Applications are available starting in early March at license vendors statewide, the DNR Service Center, on line or by telephone calling 1 (877)945-4236. Deadline is December 10. Application cost is $3 for residents and non-residents, $1 additional for applying on line. If successful a Class A Bear License is required to shoot and tag a bear-$49 resident, $251 non-resident.
Estimated Bear Population: 22,000-25,000+
Bear Range and Hunting Area: Bear hunting open statewide. Primary range northern and most central regions, numbers increasing in the south.
Legal Weapons: Any rim fire greater than .22 cal., shotguns larger than .410, muzzleloaders .45 caliber or larger, vertical bows will at least 30 pound draw and crossbows with at least 100 pound draw. Broad head blades must be at least 7/8-inch wide.
Contacts: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources* 1 (888) 936-7463 or
1(608) 266-2621* www.dnr-wi.gov
Not much is written in the national press about bear hunting in “America’s Dairyland,” which is rather amazing considering what Wisconsin has to offer. Consider the following.
Prior to 1950 black bears in Wisconsin were unprotected and considered vermin. In the early 1980s it was estimated fewer than 5,000 bears occupied Wisconsin’s northern counties with few found south of Highway 64 that runs from Marinette in the east west through Saint Croix County in the west, north of Eau Clair. In 1985 the bear seasons was closed and 1986 the Department of Natural Resources sought and received authority to limit the number of bear permits through a quota system. Since then Wisconsin’s bear population has increased to over 25,000 according to a 2011 and 2012 mark and recapture study giving the state one of the largest bear population in the Lower 48.
As the state’s bear number have increased so has their range. Wisconsin’s traditional and primary bear range is the northern one-third of the state. It still is and bears are considered abundant in those counties but bears are now considered common to occasional occupants in the central and southwest regions. Wisconsin is now broken into four Bear Hunting Management Zones, A through D, with Zone C basically extending from Route 64 and Route 8 both of which cut east/west across the state south to the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. Bear hunting is allowed statewide although methods of hunting including the use of bait and dogs vary depending upon the zone and season.
And Wisconsin produces some large black bear. Not only in terms of body weight but also skull size.
According to the Department of Natural Resources several bear in the 400 if not 500 pound class are killed each year and several have tipped the scales in the 600 and 700 pound range as recently as 2010 and 2011. The state is also a leader in Boone & Crockett as well as Pope and Young record book holders. Since 1965 The Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club (WB&BC) has maintained records of the largest bear taken and currently has several thousand listed. The club minimum is 18 in the archery-handicapped category and 19 in the firearm and non-hunting category. According to the club the state record bruin taken with a bow measured 22-11/16 taken back in 2003 although two were taken in 2011 that measured 21-15/16. In the gun category the largest measured 23-3/16. The largest bear skull entered thus far measured 23-5/16, a “pick-up” from Monroe County back in 2010 making it the third largest in the world.
Not all Wisconsin bear reach such humungous size in either body weight or skull size. The DNR says the average is around the 200 pound mark but examples in the 300 pound class, even low 400 pound class are not uncommon and Wisconsin has long been considered one of the premiere big bear hunting destinations and that reputation continues to grow.
The state also produces its fair share of bears each year. With the exception of 2013 when hunters killed 3,952 the annual tally has been in excess of 4,000 bear every year since 2009. Despite being below 4,000 the 2013 total is still the fifth highest on record. Few states, particularly east of the Mississippi have consistency produced as many each year during the time period. The highest total was 5,133 in 2010.
Success rates are respectively high as well. The statewide long term success rate for hunters in possession of a Class A Bear License has been 56 percent in recent years. It was down to 46 percent in 2013, still respectable but 78 percent in BMZ B, 72 percent in BMZ D and 59 percent in BMZ A. In BMZ C, the southern portion of the state, the success rate was 25 percent, down slightly from 27-percent in 2012.
Finally, there is plenty of public and private land open to hunting. The Wisconsin DNR manages 1.5 million acres open to hunting, including 588,000 acres of state wildlife areas and nearly 500,000 acres of state forests. An additional 1.13 million acres of private land is open to hunting through the state’s Managed Forest Law, Forest Crop Law and other programs. In addition are 2.26 million acres of country forest that allow hunting. Wisconsin is also home to the 1.5 million acre Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. All totaled some five million acres are open to public hunting, much of which is in the bear-rich counties in the northern, west-central and northeast regions of the state, traditionally the top bear-producing regions.
With all said and done Wisconsin is a great place to hunt bears. If there is anything on the downside it is getting a Class A Bear License is not easy. In 1986 when the DNR first went to the current quota-permit, or preference point system 840 permits were issued among 8,289 applicants. Two decades later 4,277 permits were issued among 68,821 applicants. Since then as bear numbers have increased and bears have expanded their range the number of permits issued and number of applicants has increased almost every year. In 2013 106,573 hunters applied for 8,560 permits and in 2014 108,271 applied for 10,340 permits. Hunters not successfully drawn are issued one preference point for each year they apply. The number of points required to draw a license depends on several variables including number of licenses available, number of applicants and the bear zone. According to the DNRs 2014 drawing results a minimum of five points were required to draw a license in BMZ A, nine on BMZ B, one in BMZ C and six in BMZ D. In other words, one to nine years to draw a license, depending on the zone. Like it or not, patience and an investment of years is required to draw a Wisconsin bear license, especially in the top producing bear zones, but few will disagree the current system works and has made the state’s bear population one of the largest and best managed in the U.S.