Mar 01 2015
By Al Raychard
Estimated Population: 5,000-5,800
Bag Limit: One bear either sex
Bear Range/Legal Hunting Areas: Bears are apt to be found statewide and hunting is allowed statewide.
Spring Hunts: No
Fall Hunts: Yes. Varies by region/WMU and method.
General and Baiting Seasons open Sept 1 and close September 21 or September 28 or November 11 or 25; Dog Season September 22-November 11
License Availability/Cost: On-line, by mail and vendors statewide.
Resident Hunting: $22 Non-Resident Hunting: $103
Resident Bear: $16 Non-Resident Bear: $48
Resident Archery $22 Non-Resident Archery $73
Legal Weapons: Firearms larger than .22 caliber rimfire, muzzleloaders larger than .40 caliber, shotguns loaded with single ball, vertical bows 40 pounds minimum draw.
Contacts: New Hampshire Fish and Game * www.wildlife.state.nh.us
White Mountain Nation Forest * www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain.
New Hampshire Guides Association:* www.nhguidesassociation.com
Granite State Bruins
By Al Raychard
At just 9,351 square miles, including lakes, ponds and rivers New Hampshire is a small state. Take away water resources the total land area covers just 8,969 square miles, smaller still.
The northern region including the White Mountains is heralded as one of the most scenic in the country with sprawling forested hills, towering mountains, a half dozen of which are over a mile high and narrows valleys. Much of the region is covered by the White Mountain Nation Forest.
To the south, wedged between the Connecticut River in the west, Maine to the east and Massachusetts to the south is upland habitat and includes the Merrimack Valley, home to some of the state’s largest cities and towns, the Hills and Lakes Region and Connecticut Valley. In the southeast corner is the Coastal Lowlands with just 13 miles facing the Atlantic Ocean. Along with the upland region the coastal region is home to much of New Hampshire’s 1.3 million human population.
Except for the largest developed areas and population centers nearly all of New Hampshire is considered bear habitat. Under good management by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department the state’s bear population is presently at an all-time high, are considered abundant, found in all ten counties and hunting bears has been legal statewide since 1998. Bear densities do vary, from 1.0 per square mile to 0.8 psm in the White Mountain region to 0.6 psm in the northern, central and two southwest regions to 0.1 psm in the southeast but the state wide density is 0.6 psm giving the New Hampshire one of the highest bear densities in the country. For management purposes the state is broken into these six regions and in recent years bears have been killed in all six, including the densely populated southeast region. The bear population is doing so well the hunting season was recently extended in four of six regions, the White Mountain, Central, Southwest-2 and Southeast.
No matter where you travel in New Hampshire, except for the short coastline region, bears are not far away and while the hunting prospects are generally good to excellent just about everywhere inland between 20 and 30-percent of the annual harvest each year comes from the Central, White Mountain and Northern Regions, generally but not always in that order. The Southwest-2 Region and Souhtwest-1 Region generally comes in fourth and fifth with the Southeast coming in sixth. Recent bear harvest by region was 184, 167, 108, 70, 36 and 4, respectively.
Compared to other top bear hunting states New Hampshire does not produce a lot of bears each year, just 570 in 2013. Since 2004 the largest harvest was 806 in 2012. But what it may lack in large numbers it offsets in respectable size. On average harvest females have seen their fifth birthday, males at least their third and each year older specimens are killed. In 2001 the oldest bear taken was 11.5 years of age, and in 2002 and 2012 12.5 years old. In 2004 the oldest was 13.5. Way back in 1997 a real older time aged out at 17.5 years. In terms of weight, in 2013 the largest bear tipped the scales at 430 pounds dressed and each year examples in the 400 or 500 pound class are taken.
Within New Hampshire’s six management regions are 18 Wildlife Management Units. Season length and dates vary by region/unit and method, but statewide there is plenty of time to hunt bears. Baiting and the use of hounds are both legal and in recent years better than 50 percent of the harvest is taken over bait and 17 percent by hound hunters. Stalking and still hunting near natural food sources remains popular with around 29 percent of the annual harvest taken this way. The general statewide season open Sept 1 and ends as late as November 25. The baiting season opens Sept 1 and ends as late as September 28 and the dog season opens September 22 and ends November 11. WMUs H2, K, L and M in the southernmost region prohibit the use of dogs.
Bait hunters must file for a free bait permit and require a landowner’s signature allowing permission to hunt property. Permits may be picked up at NH F&G regional offices in Durham, Keen, New Hampton and Lancaster, from conservation officers and NH F&G headquarters in Concord. A permit is also required to hunt bears with dogs. Permits are available on line on the NH F&G web site. The deadline for both permits is August 1.
Considering its relative small size bear hunters will find plenty of room to hunt in New Hampshire. The White Mountain National Forest is largest block of public land. A small portion, about 5.65 percent, stretches over the border in Maine but most of the 750,852 aces, or 1,255 square miles is smack in the middle of New Hampshire’s prime bear country. As noted earlier the White Mountain region is consistently a top bear producer each year. Hunting under New Hampshire regulations is allowed throughout the forest except in campgrounds, picnic areas and other developed sites.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department manages 100 wildlife management areas throughout the state covering 30,000 acres including the 3,000 acre Henry Laramie WMA in Enfield, and hunting is also allowed in 117 state forests, including the 40,000 acre Nash Stream State Forest just north of the White Mountain National Forest. Most of the state’s 41 state parks are open to hunting as are more than 13,000 acres of flood control property and more than 201,500 acres managed by the NH Department of Economic Development. A more detailed listing of properties will be found on the NH F&G web site.
Hunting licenses are also easy to come by, either on-line, by mail or at vendors statewide. All hunters age 16 and over must be licensed but there are special license options for minors.