RUMFORD — Maine’s black bear hunting season starts at 5:19 a.m. on Monday for those who stalk or still-hunt and use bait.

Bait season runs through Sept. 20, whereas stalking season ends on Nov. 29, the same day the regular firearms season for deer ends. Bear trapping season runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31 and bear hunting with dogs is from Sept. 8 through Oct. 31.

Maine has one of the longest bear hunting seasons in the country, stretching from the end of August to after Thanksgiving. It also has one of the largest bear populations in the nation, estimated at more than 30,000 bears.

Last year, more than 10,000 hunters bought permits to hunt bear, but only 2,845 bears were killed, Mark Latti of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said on Friday afternoon in Augusta.

That isn’t a very good success rate.

By contrast, 72 percent of moose hunters, and 32 percent of turkey hunters were successful last year, Judy Camuso, MDIF&W Wildlife Division director, also said on Friday afternoon.


Deer hunters who hunted last year with an “any deer” permit had a 58 percent success rate, according to surveys, while other deer hunters had an 18 percent success rate, she said.

The historically low success rate for bear hunting is the reason why, for the second year in a row, hunters are being allowed to harvest two bears — one through hunting, either by stalking, with bait or dogs; the other through trapping, Camuso said.

“There’s a misunderstanding among the public in that people think bear hunting is easy,” she said. “We have a 14-week season and we still only have a 25 percent success rate. Bear hunting is very challenging.”

“The perception is that it’s a piece of cake to get a bear during hunting season, but the reality is that only one in four hunters are successful,” Latti said.

“On average, it takes 15 days to get a bear with baiting or with dogs,” he said. “Bears are extremely wary. They don’t always come into bait sites.”

“Trapping a bear is not easy, because they have to set their foot in the exact spot where the trap is,” Camuso said. “It’s very challenging.”


So, too, is hunting bear with dogs.

“Our terrain is very different than it is in the West,” she said. “When they’re hunting bears with dogs, they’re running in wicked tough terrain through slashy areas with blowdowns. It’s not an easy way to hunt.”

More than 90 percent of the bear harvest occurs during the first four weeks of the season when hunters can use the traditional methods of hunting with dogs and baiting, Latti said.

Hunting is the department’s tool for managing Maine’s thriving bear population.

“Hunting with bait and with dogs, and trapping, accounts for 93 percent of the bear kill,” Latti said. “The other seven percent is from stalking and still-hunting. That’s why we’re opposed to the bear referendum.”

The citizen-initiated referendum, known as Maine Question 1, will appear on the Maine general election ballot on Nov. 4. The referendum asks: “Do you want to make it a crime to hunt bears with bait, traps or dogs, except to protect property, public safety or for research?”


“Right now, there’s only a 25 percent success rate, so if the referendum is approved, that success rate will drop and the bear population will go way up and we’ll see more nuisance complaints of increasing severity,” Latti said.

“If the referendum passes, and bears can’t find food, their population is going to expand into urban Maine,” Camuso said. “New Jersey is a real good example.

“It would be like allowing a surgeon to do surgery without a scalpel,” she said. “That’s why we’re hopeful the people of Maine will help us retain control.”

Latti said that when New Jersey ended its bear hunt, more than 2,000 conflicts between bears and people were reported each year, along with more than 100 home invasions annually by bear. New Jersey then reinstated the bear hunt in 2010 and nuisance complaints dropped by nearly 50 percent.

Hunting over bait removes the bolder and more aggressive bears that primarily cause conflicts with people, Latti and Camuso said.

Maine hasn’t seen any home invasions by bears yet, they said.


The problem with getting a bear at a bait site is that many bears will only visit bait sites outside of the legal hunting hours at night, Latti said.

“It’s only those bears that aren’t afraid to come out during the day — the aggressive bears — that get taken out at bait sites,” he said.

Citing the department’s bear study of more than 40 years, Latti said that on average it took a cable foot-restraint trap to be in place for 40 nights just to get one bear. He said biologists only got 90 bears while using 100 traps during a six-week period.

Maine’s dense forest doesn’t help bear hunters either. It’s the most heavily forested state in the nation, Camuso said.

That’s why bear hunting with dogs and with bait “are essential for controlling Maine’s bear population,” Jennifer Vashon, state bear biologist, said Thursday.

Camuso said the lack of wide open areas combined with northern Maine’s dense forest understory makes it difficult to hunt black bears by spotting, stalking or hunting from a tree stand or blind.


To control Maine’s large black bear population, reduce bear and people conflicts and ensure a healthy bear population, Camuso said between 3,500 and 4,500 bears need to be harvested annually by hunters and trappers.

Department bear biologists expect bait hunters to do well this year since the availability of many natural foods has been delayed or is in low supply due to the cool, wet spring.

Maine’s bear study that started in 1975 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, Camuso said

In poor natural food years, hunter success is higher than in years when natural food is abundant.

The flip side of that are nuisance bear complaints that are fueled by the availability of natural foods.

In 2013, when there was a good natural food crop, nuisance complaints dropped to 311 —  well under the five-year average of approximately 500 complaints per year. This year, because of poor natural foods, nuisance complaints have increased to 625, Camuso said.


Bear/human conflicts also increased in frequency in the past decade. Since 2004, Maine’s bear population increased by more than 30 percent and is currently estimated at more than 30,000 animals, Vashon said.

Camuso said that if baiting were driving bear populations, the yearling rate would be fairly consistent, but it’s not. Of yearlings checked during the study, some weighed 32 pounds while others weighed 65 pounds, she said.

In other states, female black bears start reproducing at the age of two or three and have from four to six cubs. In Maine, they reproduce at the age of four to six and have two to three cubs, Camuso said.

“Our black bears are small compared to other parts of the country,” she said. “All indicators show us that baiting is not driving the population. In poor food years, bears will go to den during the hunting season. They don’t get enough calories from bait.”

Maine is one of 32 states that allow bear hunting. In the 32 states that allow bear hunting, nearly three-quarters of the states (23) allow either hunting with dogs, bait or both.

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