Bears are worth the wait for us Wisconsin hunters
According to preliminary bear season totals released by the DNR, hunters’ harvested 3,648 bears during this year’s Wisconsin black bear season. Compare that to the 3,680 harvested in 2018 and Wisconsin bear hunters had a pretty good season despite a lower number of tags being issued.
There were some areas of the state that saw a lower-than-desired harvest totals like Zone B in northeastern Wisconsin and Zone D in the northwest. But the high hunter success in Zones C and A caused the statewide harvest total to rally. Zone C consists of the southern two-thirds of the state, which saw a harvest increase by 238 bears, or 36 percent, for a total of 898 bears. Zone A covering northcentral Wisconsin saw a harvest increase of 20 percent to a total of 939 bear.
It would be hard to live where we live and not know at least one bear hunter. Bear hunting is big news in our area of the state. We live in Zone C. More than one hunter has harvested their bear within a few miles of most of our houses.
The northern zones of A, B and C begin in large part along Highway 64. A casual drive through the country will find dog houses with bear hounds not too far from town, and just about every trip to the store will have at least one rig with dog boxes in the parking lot, from late June through October.
Bear hunting is big business in our area. And pretty much any bear harvested qualifies as a trophy animal, with the hunter often waiting up to 10 years for a tag. Bear meat is also delicious – a rare delicacy. For some Wisconsin hunters it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Given the rarity of the experience for many Wisconsin bear hunters, there is a desire to see and harvest a good bear quickly. And there is some sense in not waiting too long. Once the corn reaches the milk stage or acorns start dropping everywhere, black bear tend to focus on those natural foods and stop caring about snacks at bait sites.
But tagging out quickly kind of takes away the opportunity to see multiple bear, whether you hunt with dogs or bait sit. And to me, seeing the bear — a very stealthy and secretive animal, normally, unless one takes a liking to your bird feeder — is a major part of the draw of the hunt. It’s why I like dog hunting so much, because you don’t need to wait almost a decade to get out into the woods and see bear. In his press release last week, Scott Walter, the DNR large carnivore specialist, had this to say: “Wisconsin often leads the nation in black bear harvest, and these preliminary results suggest that our bear population remains healthy and abundant across the prime bear range in the state. Although we reduced quotas and permit levels to meet population management objectives, generally higher hunter success allowed us to achieve 95 percent of our desired harvest quota and an overall harvest similar to last year.
The data provided by hunters through the registration process is critical to both tracking bear population size and establishing harvest quotas that address population management objectives.” Walter continued by saying: “Weather and the availability of natural foods can lead to variation in hunter success, so the beauty of our zone-based approach to management is that we can identify and track local bear population trends. The 2019 data provided by hunters will be instrumental in allowing us to adjust quotas moving forward to ensure that bear populations in all zones are at desired levels.”
Few types of hunting generate the passion for a particular hunt the way bear hunting does with the individual. The dog hunters not only have a sizeable financial investment in equipment and hounds, they invest large amounts of time into bear hunting. For over 25 percent of the year they are either training or hunting bear.
They spend most of their vacation time during the bear season. And they spend a couple weeks just getting ready for the training season check baiting stumps, re-sanding baits, placing trail cameras, cutting in new bait sites, and getting the baiting started. Those that bait sit have all that and more for each of their baits just to get started.
But it’s so worth it, just to see the bear, to touch the bear, and for the table fare.