By Al Raychard
Maryland is famous for many things. The beauty and bounty of Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary within the United States and its world famous blue crabs, served with copious amounts of Old Bay or Chesapeake Bay seasoning, of course. For you American history buffs, the Civil War Battle of Antietam was fought near Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862. More Americans died that day than any on other day in the nation’s military history. “Bloody Antietam” it was called. Casualties totaled more than 22,700 for the Union and Confederacy. When it comes to bear hunting, Maryland isn’t as well-known as some of its many other natural wonders and historical footnotes but it doesn’t mean bears don’t exist in the Old Line State and hunting opportunities aren’t available. They do and they are!
In fact, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources black bears are thriving within the western counties of the state. The latest population estimate puts the number at more than 2,500 adult and sub-adult bears, not including cubs in the occupied counties of Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington. The population is highest in Garrett and Allegany Counties, is estimated to be increasing by about 12-percent annually with bears commonly reported in other regions of the state, particularly during the spring mating season.
Black bears are actually native to Maryland but as in other states enjoy less than a stellar history. Due to human settlement and expansion, habitat loss and fragmentation, bounties in the 1700s and indiscriminate killing through the 1800s bear numbers dwindled. By 1960 bears were near extirpated from the state, found only in the remote hills and mountains of Allegany and Garrett Counties. In 1972 the black bear was added to the state’s endangered species list.
Over the next couple decades things changed. Habitat conditions improved, research and monitoring program were initiated by the MDNR and bear numbers responded in kind. In 1980 black bears were removed from the state endangered list and in 1985 bears were elevated to “forest game” status.
In 2004 Maryland held its first bear hunt since 1953. The hunt took place only in part of Garrett County, all of Allegany Count, a quota was set and of more than 2,270 applicants only two-hundred permits were issued. A total of twenty bears were taken during that first hunt.
Maryland has held a bear hunt every year since and each year the number of permits issued, number of applicants and bear killed has increased. In 2014 450 were issued, 3,631 hunters applied and 69 bears were taken. In 2016 Frederick and Washington Counties were also opened to bear hunting. In 2019 800 permits were issued among over 5,200 applicants and 146 were taken. Last year 950 permits were allotted, the highest ever. Only 2,643 hunters applied and just 117 bears were killed largely due to COVID-19 but natural food shortages and wet, windy conditions were also contributing factors. As of this writing the number of permits to be issued for this year’s hunt has not been established but should be similar to 2020 or slightly higher. The number of applicants will undoubtedly be higher as well considering the COVID epidemic is losing steam and more hunters will be itching to hit the woods.
Since Maryland initiated its bear hunt almost two decades ago most bears have been taken on private land. In 2020 it was 74-percent. Hunters are reminded written permission is required to hunt on private property. Fortunately Maryland has plenty of public land in the four western counties open to bear hunting. In Allegany County Green Ridge State Forest east of Flintstone covers 45,000 and Dan’s Mountain Wildlife Management Area covers over 9,500 acres. The Warrior Mountain WMA covers another 4,800 acres.
In Frederick County Cunningham Falls State Park in the Cotoctin Mountains covers 4,400 acres and the Frederick City Watershed Cooperative WMA offers 7,000 acres of good bear habitat. In Garrett County the Potomac-Garrett SF in the southeast portion of the county off Rt. 135 covers nears 10,000 acres and the Savage River SF, the largest state forest in the state offers plenty of room on its 54,000 acres. In Washington County the Indian Springs WMA near Clear Spring offers 6,400 acres and the Sideling Hill WMA an additional 3,600 acres.
Additional information on these and other properties will be found on the MDNR web site under “Public Land Hunting Opportunities.” Wherever bears are hunted careful planning is advised. Many of these public areas consists of rolling to steep and rugged topography that can be physically demanding, access can be limited to some and while some offer primitive camping areas and nearby facilities other may not.
MARYLAND BEAR OVERVIEW
ESTIMATED HUNTABLE BEAR POPULATION: 2,000-2,500 +/-.
LEGAL LIMIT: One bear per permittee/sub-permittee team for the season.
LEGAL HUNTING HOURS: One-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.
OPEN AREAS OPEN TO HUNTING: Allegany, Garrett, Frederick and Washington Counties.
SPRING SEASON: No.
FALL SEASON: Yes. October 25-29, 2021.
HUNTING LICENSES/PERMITS REQUIRED/FEES: Resident hunting license-$24.50. Non-resident hunting license - $130. Nonrefundable Bear Hunting Permit application-$15.
BEAR HUNTING PERMIT AVAILABILITY/INFORMATION: Bear permits are only issued through lottery. Applications accepted starting in mid-July through end of August each year. Hunters can apply through their COMPASS account at compass.dnrmaryland.gov, at a Licensing and Registration Service Center and local sporting licensing agents. Drawing take place first week of September. Preference points are issued to hunters not drawn. Successful applicants (permittees) may designate up to two sub-permittees who are allowed to participate in all aspects of the hunt.
BAITING ALLOWED: It is illegal to directly hunt bears over bait. (See regulations for specific details on baiting).
DOGS ALLOWED: Dogs may not be used to hunt bears but training dogs may be used to find a dead
or wounded bear. (Additional rules apply. See regulations for details).
LEGAL WEPONDS: Handguns, centerfire rifles, shotguns, muzzleloader rifles/pistols, vertical bows and crossbows. (See regulations for information on allowed calibers, minimum draw weighs and particulars).
CONTACT: Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 1-(877) 620-8367; www.dnr.maryland.gov.