My wife, Diane, half-whispered and half-yelled at me:
“Paul, come downstairs quick.”
Standing in the shadows of the half-light by the kitchen window, she was pointing out by the bird feeder. A large black bear was standing on all fours not 15 feet from the sliding glass door on which it had slathered its drool the night before. Having hunted bears and guided some, I’m a pretty good judge of size. This bruin was in the neighborhood of 250 lbs. He just stood there gazing calmly at the bird feeder station. He then sniffed at the pole that had held the feeder, which we had removed after the previous night’s raid.
He then headed to the back of the house where we had also chained down the cover of a barrel of sunflower seeds that the bear had tipped over the night before. Diane, in keeping with her plan, stood on a chair and cranked open a high window overlooking the stash of sunflower seeds.
Getting into her stealth mode (she has hunted bears), she flipped off the safety latch on a large unfired container of bear spray that was a holdover from our Western fishing trips in Montana grizzly country.
The big bear, unable to break through the chain on the seed barrel, sat down on its haunches as if studying the situation. Diane remained steady with her bear spray, apparently waiting for a closer shot. When the bear finally began cat footing closer beneath the window, Diane pulled the trigger. Whooshhhhh!
Looking over Diane’s shoulder, I saw the arc of pepper spray and then the shadow of a bear clambering through the fir thicket behind the house. Unplanned for was the slight backdraft of pepper spray that caught in our throats. Poor bear.
As of this writing the bear has not been back. I’m not afraid of bears as a rule, but this guy makes me nervous. He is bold and brazen. My trail camera caught him coming in at 5 a.m. on a bright sunny morning on the lake. I would say that it was one of those nuisance bears that bear biologist Randy Cross describes as one that “has crossed the line.”
In our morning walks around the lake, Diane and I have seen piles of bear scat like we have never seen in 50 years on the lake.
Science more or less supports this anecdotal evidence, according to the Maine Big Game Management report just released this spring. Maine’s bear population far exceeds population objectives. Bear numbers are rising in Maine at 4 percent per year. The report writes: “As state bear populations continue to grow, all established hunting methods will be required to slow range expansion and minimize human-bear conflicts.”
Hunters just aren’t harvesting enough bears in the fall to stabilize the bear numbers. In 2001 hunters tagged 4,000 bears. This past fall the bear take was half that. What is to be done?
According to the report, “there is no chance to lengthen the fall season.” A move to liberalize the bear take to two animals per hunter/trapper did not seem to make a dent in the rising bear numbers.
Just imagine what the bear numbers would be today if southern Maine voters had had their way and banned bear hunting in Maine as we know it.
How about a spring bear hunt?
This question has been raised before. In the past, the Maine Professional Guides Association (MPGA) opposed a spring bear hunt out of concern that it would change the business climate for guides, and perhaps stir up the bear-referendum crowd once again.
To our north and east, Canadian spring bear hunts have been the norm for years. According to the Maine report, the fish and wildlife commissioner has no authority to sanction a spring bear hunt, that it would take a legislative act.
Perhaps it’s time to at least have this conversation among state policymakers.
As for my backyard bear, it has me wondering: Why go up north anymore for the early fall bear hunt?
The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com