Minnesota Black Bear Harvest Unexpectedly High

A black bear moves about in the spring after emerging from its den. News Tribune file photo
A black bear moves about in the spring after emerging from its den. News Tribune file photo

Minnesota’s bear hunters enjoyed their most successful season in several years, shooting 2,632 bears, according to preliminary Department of Natural Resource figures. Minnesota’s bear season opened Sept. 1 and ended Oct. 16. This year’s bear harvest was up 35 percent over last year, when hunters took 1,972 bears.

This season’s harvest is the highest since 2010, when 2,966 bears were taken.

The increased harvest concerns Dave Garshelis, the DNR bear project leader in Grand Rapids.
“It’s higher than we wanted,” Garshelis said. “We were hoping for a harvest of less than 800 females, and it came out over 1,000.”

The DNR has been hoping the bear population, now estimated at 12,000 to 15,000, would increase somewhat. The agency has been issuing fewer permits to hunters in recent years in hopes of growing the population. A few more permits were available this year (3,850 total), but not so many that such a harvest increase would have been expected, Garshelis said.

Hunter success rates were at 34 percent across the bear range and over 40 percent in some areas.

Poor natural food conditions were thought to be part of the reason for the increased harvest. When natural foods, such as acorns and hazelnuts, are sparse, bears are more apt to visit baits put out by hunters.

The other possibility, Garshelis said, is that the bear population was higher than biologists had realized. Garshelis and other biologists will have to do more research to decide if that is the case, he said. It is premature to speculate whether fewer bear permits will be issued next fall in light of this fall’s harvest, Garshelis said.

The DNR had 32 radio-collared research bears going into the season. Hunters were asked to avoid shooting those bears, but six of them, or 19 percent were shot, Garshelis said.

The state’s all-time high bear harvest occurred in 1995 when 4,956 bears were taken.