Maine’s annual bear hunt began this year on August 26 and runs through November 30. It is legal to hunt bears over bait this year from August 29 to September 21. Houndsmen may hunt bear with dogs from September 9 to November 1. Trappers can harvest a bear in September and October.

Maine has a large and healthy black bear population, the largest in the eastern United States. Eclipsed only by our November deer hunt, the early fall hunt for black bears is a major contributor to the state’s rural economy. Bear hunting brings jobs and income to a hard-pressed rural Maine.

Guided bear hunts in early September by nonresident hunters comprise the largest proportion of the annual bear kill.

Each year, hunters take about 10 percent of Maine’s estimated bear population, which is around 30,000. More bears are bagged in Aroostook County than in any other county, and about 70 percent of the statewide bear tagged are taken by nonresident hunters who spend about a week in Maine paying guides, sporting camps and buying gas and groceries. Interestingly enough, nonresident bear hunters tend to enjoy higher success rates than resident bear hunters. This may be explained by the fact that more nonresident hunters employ licensed bear guides than resident hunters do.

Although this fall’s bear hunt officially began in late August, bear guides and outfitters began making hunt preparations by the end of July. Once the areas of bear activity are located, guides set up tree stands and select bait sites. Guides and outfitters must pay landowners for a given number of these site permits. These sites were”baited” with something “bear edible.” Old donuts gathered up from bakeries and fast food outlets have become popular bear bait. The idea, or course, is to keep the bruin interested in hopes that it will revisit the bait site when legal hunting begins.

Contrary to the popular notion, bagging a bear, even using a baited site, is no easy thing. Bears are wary creatures with keen senses of smell and hearing. The smartest ones learn that bait sites often give off a human odor, and plan their site stopovers after dark. If the wind is wrong, or a restless hunter makes the slightest noise in a tree stand on a quiet afternoon, all bets are off. Bears that suspect a “setup” will often play a waiting game just out of sight and range of a bear site until darkness descends.

Working behind the scenes for most successful nonresident hunters is a hardworking Registered Maine Guide. This guide spends most of July putting up tree stands, scouting for bear activity, and baiting and rebaiting dozens of bear hunt sites. And for that guide, the work really begins after the kill. Bears are fine table fare, if properly attended to and carefully processed. The best guides will work with his client in quickly field-dressing his bear, getting the hide off and cooling the meat as soon as possible.

Aspiring bear hunters who want to try a do-it-yourself hunt should go for it. You’ll need to secure landowner permission for a bear bait site and locate a source for four or five bagfulls of some kind of bait (sweets). Once you’ve done that get a tree stand up early near your selected bait site, preferably a cool swamp where heavy-coated August bears like to hang out.

As with so many hunting endeavors, there are a lot of tricks to the trade and practices to be avoided. But most experienced bear guides are willing to talk to newcomers and can speed up your learning curve somewhat. Like a good cook, though, they probably won’t share all of their hard-earned secrets, but they’ll get you off on the right foot.

Hunting Maine black bears is exciting. Early September is a wonderful time to sit quietly in a tree stand and watch the shadows lengthen and the squirrels skitter and chatter. And if it happens, if the big black critter shows himself, all the better. Your composure will be tested. Trust me on this.

By the way, the Humane Society of the United States and some other animal rights organizations have launched another political assault upon Maine’s bear hunt. Maine voters will likely be asked yet again to decide whether to ban bear hunting. In effect, the future of all forms of recreational hunting in Maine is ultimately on the line. More on this later.

The author 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-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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