Wisconsin Hunters Set Harvest Record

Wisconsin DNR - Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Bear Hunting Magazine

Wisconsin bear hunters appear to have easily set a new harvest record this fall. Preliminary figures indicate at least 3,800 bear were registered during the recently completed fall hunting season, which would be an increase of more than 26 percent from the existing record.

"We won't know the final bear kill until all the registration stubs have been counted," said Keith Warnke, Department of Natural Resources deer and bear ecologist. "We're still contacting a few remaining registrations to get their results in."

The previous bear kill record was set in 1998 when hunters registered 3,184 bear. The bear harvest is known to have topped the 3,000 mark only two other times: in 2,000 (3,075) and 2004 (3,063). As recently as 1989, the bear harvest failed to reach 1,000. In that year, 978 bear were registered. In 1986, the first year the current limited permit system was initiated, hunters tagged just 503 bear.

This year's ample harvest was anticipated after the DNR revised bear population estimates upwards, based on a University of Wisconsin researcher's study indicating the number of bear in the state was more than twice agency estimates. The DNR issues bear kill permits at a level designed to control the bear population. Prior to the study, DNR had proceeded as if managing a prehunt bear population of about 11,300.

Following the study, the prehunt bear population was reestimated at between 26,000 and 40,000. Warnke said DNR used the lower, conservative figure when establishing 2009 permit levels. As a result, 7,310 permits were issued this fall, compared with 4,660 in 2008. The 2009 goal was to harvest 4,585 bear, a target requiring a hunter success rate greater than 60 percent.

As this is the first year under the new population formula, the department will be mulling the results with bear-hunting groups. "I thought it was a relataively good season," said Mike Gappa, a former DNR biologist who currently serves on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association.
"There were some really impressive animals taken by some groups while other groups told me they weren't able to come up with the 400, 500 and 600 pounders they were seeing during the (dog) training season."

The Bear Hunters Association has long advocated for a boost in harvest permits, and Gappa said this year's increase "was a good thing. We definitely had to take more animals and I think we did."

The increase in permits did not seem to cause problems for those hunters who use hounds. "To my knowledge, there were few complaints about increased competition," he said. "The guys I talked to said the hunting situation was the same as it's been the past few years."

On the other hand, a bumper crop of acorns interfered with some efforts to lure bear with bait, which is the primary hunting method in Wisconsin. Acorns are sought out by bear, deer, turkey and other wildlife. Bear like to fatten up on acorns prior to hibernation, often preferring them to other food items.

"I do know we had a phenomenal acorn crop in Zone C (the southern half of Wisconsin)," Gappa said. "A lot of guys I talked to in Zone C were disappointed bear shut off coming to bait about a week before the season opened."

Acorns began falling in late August. The bear hunting season opened in early September.
"In the north, I don't know if acorns were a problem," Gappa said. "The biggest problem I heard from the north is that hunters weren't seeing the big bear they had been running prior to the season."
A number of those hunters could have filled their tag with a smaller bear but opted to wait for an opportunity to take a larger animal, an opportunity that sometimes never came, Gappa said.

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