AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s bear season begins on Monday, August 27 throughout the state of Maine, and youth hunters get their own day this Saturday, August 25.
“Bear hunters should have a good early season as natural foods seem to be in shorter supply this summer, particularly up north and Downeast as bears are on the move and actively looking for food,” said Randy Cross, bear field crew leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Maine’s black bear population is closely monitored by Department biologists through one of the most extensive, longest-running biological studies in the U.S. The study began in 1975 and continues today. Over nearly 40 years, Department biologists have captured and tracked over 3,000 bears to determine the health and condition of Maine’s bears and estimate how many cubs are born each year.
“Over those forty years, it’s very clear that during years with poor natural food production of nuts and berries, bears are moving more seeking out other food sources, and hunters are more successful,” said Cross.
Maine’s bear season is divided into three segments, as hunters can hunt with bait from August 27 to September 22, hunters can hunt with dogs from September 10 to October 26, and hunters can still hunt or stalk bear from August 27 to November 24. Maine has one of the longest bear seasons in the country since Maine has one of the largest bear population estimated at over 36,000 animals. In addition to a season that starts in August and ends after Thanksgiving, Maine allows hunters to take two bears, one by hunting and one by trapping.
In 2017, hunters harvested approximately 2,900 bears during the three-month season. In 2016, numbers were similar with hunters taking 2,859 bears.
Even with the lengthy bear season, only about 25% of all bear hunters are successful. By contrast, 73% of moose hunters were successful last year, turkey hunters enjoy success rates between 30-35% and deer hunters in Maine are successful 14-18% of the time.
Young hunters will once again get their own day on Saturday, August 25. Youth hunters who have a junior hunting license can hunt bear with a firearm, bow, or crossbow on this day. Youth hunters may hunt bear with the use of bait, or still hunt; however the use of dogs during youth hunting day is prohibited.
Youth hunters may hunt only in the presence of an adult supervisor who is at least 18 years of age. The adult supervisor may not possess a firearm, bow, or crossbow while the youth hunter is participating in the bear hunt; however, the parent, guardian or qualified adult may carry a handgun pursuant to Title 25 M.R.S. SS 2001-A, but the handgun may not be used for the purpose of hunting. Any person who accompanies a junior hunter other than the parent or guardian, must either possess a valid adult hunting license or have successfully completed a hunter education course.
With natural food production down, hunters should have greater success, and in-state research shows that abundance of natural foods is also what drives nuisance bear complaints. In years when there is a good natural food crop, the numbers of complaints drop. In poor natural food years, nuisance complaints increase. This year, there has been over 450 complaints through mid-August. Maine generally averages 500 nuisance complaints for the year.
Over a span of 40 years, Maine’s bear study has shown that not only does the availability of natural foods drive bear cub survival and bear birth rates, but it also directly influences when bears den for the winter, as well as hunter success rates. In poor natural food years, hunter success is higher than in years when natural food is abundant.
Successful bear hunters are reminded that it is mandatory to submit a tooth from their bear when registering. Tagging agents will provide envelopes and instructions to hunters as to how to remove the tooth. Biologists age the tooth, and the biological data collected help biologists adjust season lengths and bag limits for bears. In August, hunters can learn the age of the bear they harvested the previous season by visiting https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting-trapping/harvest-information.html.
Hunters and trappers must have a bear permit in addition to a big game hunting or trapping license to harvest a bear in Maine. However, during the deer firearm season, resident hunters can harvest a bear without a bear permit. Bear hunting is most popular and bear populations are the densest in the northern and downeast regions of the state.