For many, Maine’s annual hunting seasons kick off with the fall bear hunt on Monday. I was very fortunate on my very first bear hunt to be guided by Randy Cross, a bear biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Randy probably knows as much about black bears as anyone in the nation, maybe more. He’s a wellspring of information and is not bashful about sharing. Being a journalist, I tend to ask a lot of questions, so I enjoyed our long rides to and from bait sites almost as much as the hunt.

At the time, hunters were killing between 2,500 and 3,000 bears a year. That higher number was significant as Cross told me it was the maximum number biologists felt could be removed from the population while maintaining a sustainable resource. After hunters achieved, and even slightly exceeded that number for several consecutive seasons, Cross and his colleagues became concerned they may be overharvesting. “We needed to take a closer look at the numbers,” Cross said.

They did, and the news turned out better than expected. Not only were hunters not overharvesting, the bear population was larger than originally believed, and growing. That was over two decades ago.

Much has happened since. We’ve successfully fought off two antihunting referenda, and in the process kept wildlife management decisions in the hands of professionally trained and highly skilled biologists. We’ve preserved Maine’s ages-old bear hunting traditions and conserved the state’s bear resource. Meanwhile, the bear population has continued to grow, along with the number of nuisance and damage complaints, so much so that biologists now acknowledge current bear seasons, hunting methods and bag limits are not sufficient to achieve target harvest levels. We need to explore other options.

One is a spring hunt. Maine used to have a spring hunt but the legislature ended it in the 1980s. It has been proposed as one of several alternatives, and could be a viable solution, but should not be implemented without careful consideration.

From states and provinces that currently have them and from past Maine hunts, we know spring hunts typically have a much higher success rate than fall hunts. A spring hunt would help achieve the objective of removing more bears, but could also impact the fall hunt.

It’s somewhat similar, albeit reversed, to turkey hunting. Maine’s modern turkey hunt has traditionally been held in the spring. When a fall hunt was proposed, biologists wanted to ensure they could implement it without negatively impacting the turkey population or the quality of the spring hunt. Because the fall hunt is for either sex of turkey, it can have a significant impact on the population. So the department chose a conservative approach that worked well.

Again, a spring bear hunt would remove more bears, but could have an effect on the fall hunt. Some might argue that it doesn’t matter as long as the objective is met. However, fall bear hunting supports a substantial industry of guides, outfitters, lodges and ancillary service providers in more remote areas of the state. With deer numbers, and demand for deer hunting services at historical lows, guided bear hunts take on added importance to local economies.

Initially, spring hunting might mean an extra week of guiding. And the outfitters will still have four weeks of hunters they’ve already booked for the fall. But fall hunt success rates will decline noticeably. After a season or two of not shooting, or even seeing nearly as many bears, demand for fall hunts will drop off, and five weeks of potential income could very quickly be reduced to two or three.

A spring bear hunt represents one possible option for trimming our bear population to a level that will reduce potential conflicts with the general public while also ensuring a sustainable resource for hunters. However, careful consideration must be given to potential consequences of implementing such a hunt. In defeating two previous efforts to abolish bear hunting, the residents of Maine expressed their trust in our biologists and managers. We should continue that support and trust.

Bob Humphrey is a certified wildlife biologist, Registered Maine Guide and the author of two books on turkey hunting. He can be reached at:

[email protected]