Maine’s annual bear hunt begins in about a month.

Maine has a large and healthy black bear population. 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. 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 currently estimated at 36,000. This figure is considerably higher than a few years ago. More bear 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.

This fall’s bear hunt officially begins Aug. 29 and runs until Sept. 24. For about a month before that, guides and outfitters make preparations.

Once 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.

For the rest of the month, these sites are”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.

According to Maine’s state bear biologist Randy Cross, last fall’s annual bear harvest was in excess of 3,000 critters. That number is in keeping with average bear harvest.

What’s the fall outlook for the bear hunt?

“Great,” according to biologist Cross.

He said: “This year’s bait hunt should be fast and furious, especially early in the season. Bears are hungry now and that won’t change in the next month.

“This is a good year to hunt bear with high bait interest, which should translate into higher success rates and higher final harvest numbers. Early den entry is very likely reducing opportunities for deer hunters and other late season hunters. Pelts should prime up early this fall as a result of early den entry. Beech nuts are not likely to be a significant factor this fall.”

Bears may also be hunted with hounds from Sept. 12 to Oct. 28. Trapping of bears is also legal from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31.

Nonresident November deer hunters who want to harvest a black bear will be required to purchase a bear tag in advance of the hunt. A bear permit is required for any hunter wishing to hunt bear before the November firearms season.

Bear hunting brings jobs and income to a hard-pressed rural Maine.

• Maine’s Economy: A survey of bear hunters estimated that bear hunting generated $6.4 million, including $3.4 million of new money for the State’s economy provided by nonresident hunters.

• Guides and Outfitters: Using the percentage of nonresident hunters that use a guide as a basis and multiplying by an average price of $1,000 for a guided hunt, the direct fiscal impact to the guiding industry is $4,564,440. This figure does not include any measure of other impacts such as retail sales or taxidermy. This impact is delivered in the more rural areas of the state primarily the northern, eastern and western mountain regions.

• Department Revenue: Although overall participation in hunting in Maine is declining slightly, sales of bear permits are rising. The positive fiscal impact of the early bear season on the Fish and Wildlife Department is also significant because of the number of permits sold.

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, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His email address is [email protected]

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