MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Bear hunting season officially kicks off in some management units on September 8.
This year 7,001 bear licenses were available for hunters with 5,771 designated for hunts in the U.P. Cody Norton, Large Carnivore Specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says there are usually more applicants for a license than the quota allows.
“It fluctuates, but this year I think we had over 60,000 applicants for a bear license and we only had about 7,000 licenses available so there’s always a bigger demand to go bear hunting than we can actually provide and that the population can provide,” said Norton. “So to kind of deal with that we have a preference point drawing system and so every year when award bear licenses we award them to the folks with the most preference points and work our way down until we either run out of applicants or run out of licenses to give out.”
Norton says they designate quotas by management unit to spread out hunters and prevent too much or too light of a harvest in one area. Bear hunting contributes to conservation efforts because the population is managed and license fees contribute to work that the DNR does.
“All of that money goes back into bear management so that allows us to do our population estimates and monitor how the bear population is doing,” said Norton. “Also the harvest helps us with managing nuisance complaints you know keeping bear numbers in a manageable level where we’re not going to have too many issues with the public where bears are causing problems but also keeping them at a nice sustainable level where we still get you know all the benefits of having bears.”
Regulations and quotas for bears are set every two years. The process takes into consideration harvest data, population and feedback from different stakeholders.
“We’ll take all that information and I’ll go meet with our local biologists and technicians and talk with them and start developing kind of initial recommendations for how many bears we think should be taken in their area and if there are any big regulation things that need to change,” said Norton.
When they estimate the bear population, the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s use different strategies. Norton says the Lower Peninsula they use a hair snare survey. Hairs from bear visiting sites get caught on a snare, the DNR does genetic analysis on the hair and uses it as part of an estimate.
“In the U.P. we used to have an antibiotic called tetracycline that we used,” said Norton. “We basically put out baits with this antibiotic in them, the antibiotic would stain their teeth, you can only see it with ultraviolet light but it worked out when those bears were harvested we’d pull a tooth and then we could get an age off the bear and figure out what years they consumed bait and estimate the population.”
Norton says they are no longer using that method for estimating the population in the Upper Peninsula but are working on a new way to complete a population survey. Both estimates from the Upper and Lower Peninsulas are put into a model that estimates the population every year.
After initial recommendations are developed Norton says the internal bear workgroup meets. They talk with law enforcement division staff; tribal biologists and governments; and the DNR’s bear forum made up of hunters, agricultural interest groups and beekeepers.
“From all of that information that we get we’ll develop kind of final recommendations that we’ll bring before the Natural Resources Commission,” said Norton. “We’ll basically present them with our recommendations and then they’ll decide how we’re going to move forward and what’s going to be in place for the next two years.”
When it comes time for hunters to get out in the woods, they can choose to hunt with any typical gun for game hunting, bow or crossbow. In the Upper Peninsula, there is no designated bow or gun season for bears but in the Lower Peninsula, there is a designated time for bow hunters to go out.
“For people who aren’t necessarily very familiar with bear hunting, there’s kind of two techniques that are used by the vast majority of hunters in Michigan and that’s either using bait or hounds or a combination of both where they call them strike baits and they’ll run hounds off of a bait after bears have been visiting it,” said Norton. “They’ve both been used extensively mostly in the Eastern U.S. where you can’t really spot and stalk for bears like you can out west where there’s no trees or few trees.”
If you were to encounter a bear unarmed and not licensed to harvest a bear during the season, Norton says like most large predatory animals, bears will want to get away from you as much as you want to get away from them.
“If you do have an encounter where bears are close or you know you feel threatened the best thing to do is you know act big, raise your arms up, talk to the bear in a loud stern voice, back away from it, don’t run, of course, if you have children or pets pick them up so they don’t run,” said Norton.
Bears move around seasonally to where resources are so keeping track of where bears might be is all in thinking about where they can eat. If there are ripe berries nearby, it might not be unusual for a bear to be around. When it’s hot Norton says they can be found in swampy areas as well trying to keep cool.