Maine has a large and healthy black bear population estimated to exceed 23,000. Eclipsed only by our November deer hunt, the early fall hunt for black bears has become a major contributor to the state’s rural economy. According to Gov. John Baldacci, Maine’s annual bear hunt brings in excess of $70 million to the state’s economy. Guided bear hunts in early September, by nonresident hunters bagging their bears at baited sites comprise the largest proportion of the annual bear kill.

Each year hunters take about 10 percent of Maine’s bear population. Over the past few years, a couple of bears have been taken taken that weighed in at well over 500 lbs. More bears are bagged in Aroostook County than in any other county, and about 70 percent of the statewide bear tagged are taken by non-resident hunters who spend about a week in Maine paying guides, sporting camps and buying gas and groceries.

Although the bear hunt doesn’t officially begin until Aug. 31, guides and outfitters begin making preparations in late July. Once areas of bear activity are located, guides set up bait sites. Guides and outfitters must pay landowners for a given number of site permits. For the rest of the month these sites will be “baited” with something “bear edible.” Old donuts gathered up from bakeries and fast food outlets have become a popular bear bait. A bear guide I know in Western Maine “sweetens” his bait site perimeters by placing nearby scented cotton balls laced with a popular liqueur!

From now until the bear season opens Aug. 31, the bait sites will be replenished every few days. The idea, or course, is to keep the bruin interested in hopes that it will revisit the bait site when legal hunting begins.

The state bear-baiting season runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 26. Houndsmen may hunt bear with dogs from Sept. 14 to Oct. 30. All bear hunters must have a bear permit. This includes November deer hunters who take an “incidental” black bear. For non-resident bear hunters there is an added twist: our visiting non-resident November hunters must also possess a late-season bear permit. All bear hunters, resident or non-resident, must possess a fall bear permit, as well as a big game hunting license.

Although the fish and wildlife folks have not yet issued a 2009 hunting regulations booklet, here is a breakdown of the bear season dates from the IF&W website:

Hunting With Bait: Aug. 31-Sept. 26 (Bear bait may be set out 30 days prior to the start of the bear bear baiting season which would be Aug. 1.)

Hunting With Dogs: Sept. 14-Oct. 30.

Note: A bear hunting permit is required in addition to a hunting license to hunt for bear before the firearm season on deer. The fee for this permit is $27 for residents and $67 for nonresidents and aliens. During the firearms season on deer, nonresidents and aliens are required to obtain a November (late season) bear permit (if they do not already possess the early season bear permit) to hunt bear. The fee for this permit is $40. There is also an added agent fee.

Bag and Possession Limit: One bear may be taken annually, either by hunting or trapping.

For what it’s worth, there are a couple of bear-hunting issues that have gotten little attention from either the mainstream press or the sporting press. First, there has been a steady decline in the sale of fall bear hunting permits by both resident hunters and non-resident hunters. There has been a corresponding decrease each year in the number of bears taken. Less than 10 years ago the annual bear harvest was averaging 3,700 bears. In 2007, 2,871 bears were tagged. So we are taking a thousand fewer bears out of the statewide population each year. Therefore Maine’s black bear population must be on the upswing. We also know that black bears are killing fawn deer and contributing to Maine’s poor level of fawn recruitment (tomorrow’s deer herd). You have to wonder, then, why the Deer Predation Task Force elected not to have a Maine spring bear hunt. Members of the Deer Study Task Force — from which the deer predation group was formed — had suggested bringing back Maine’s spring bear hunt as a way of stabilizing Maine’s black bear numbers.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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