I’m really looking forward to bear hunting this fall, partly because I missed the last couple seasons, but mostly because this year promises to be exceptional. The principal reason is weather. So many things factor into the success of both hunter and hunted. Of them all, weather just might be the most important.

By most accounts, last year’s bear season was unremarkable. Optimal spring rain, sunlight and temperatures led to a proliferation of preferred natural food. As a result, bears shunned bait sites and an unusually high percentage of hunters went home unsuccessful.

Maine’s bear population is thriving, bordering on nuisance levels in increasingly more areas. Last year’s low kill, this spring’s late frosts and an anticipated dearth of beechnuts all mean more hungry bears around this fall. Make no mistake, it still won’t be easy, as even in the best years only one in four hunters are successful. And that’s assuming ideal weather through the season.

Waterfowl production depends on how early or late the spring thaw occurs, and the timing and amount of spring rain. A late thaw or not enough rain to fill the potholes and persist through the brooding season could mean fewer ducks raising fewer young. The forecast is favorable.

Hunting success depends not only on how many ducks come south, but when they come.

It takes a good cold snap to push those northern nesters south. If it’s late, shooting opportunities in the first half of our split season will be limited to sparse local birds that get shot out or educated early on. In a typical year, the northern staging areas freeze and the ducks pour south just about when the season closes. Then it reopens about the time the inland ponds are frozen over, and most of the migrants have moved to the coast or headed south.

The situation is somewhat similar for woodcock, except these upland nesting birds want less spring rain, not more. The warmer and drier the spring, the better the hatch. A smattering of local birds and a few early migrants provide most of the shooting through October. A good cold snap before month’s end can produce some fantastic gunning for “flight” birds. But if the cold weather is late by a week or more, the big flights won’t come until after the start of deer season, when most bird hunters have put their dogs up and will miss the fall’s best gunning.

Turkeys and grouse are susceptible to somewhat the same spring conditions. Cold, wet weather spells disaster, particularly during the early brood-rearing period, when newly hatched young are most susceptible to exposure.

The effect on grouse is more immediate. Fewer birds hatched and raised to adulthood in the spring means fewer birds to hunt in the fall. But they can recover from these fluctuations more quickly, in a year or two.

There’s more of a lag for turkeys. Most hunting effort is directed toward adult males in the spring season (there is an either-sex fall season but participation is low). Birds born this spring won’t even be “huntable” until next spring, when they’ll be 1-year-old jakes. Most hunters will pass them up in deference to a longbeard, which will be at least 2 years old.

Deer also experience a bit of a lag, with their bottleneck coming in winter. Excessive snow depth limits mobility, reducing the deer’s ability to obtain food in an energy-efficient manner and increasing their vulnerability to predation. It’s not news to most Mainers that several severe winters, a burgeoning predator population and insufficient protection of winter habitat have conspired to bring the state’s white-tailed population to historically low levels..

Weather patterns are constantly changing and we don’t always know why. We may be witnessing the start of a long-term global warming or climate change, or merely the temporary manifestation of El Nino, La Nina, sunspots, the Coriolis effect or bovine flatulence. Whatever the case, the general trend has been more favorable for both hunter and hunted. And I for one am not going to look a gift horse, or bear, or deer, or woodcock in the mouth.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]