Officials say bear season safe, fruitful

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department reports that bear hunters in Vermont had a safe and successful hunting season in 2014. Hunters took 567 black bears during the 84 days of the two-part “early bear season” and “late bear season.” There were also no hunting-related shooting incidents.
The final harvest was nearly identical to the 2013 harvest, with 10 additional bears being taken in 2014. This represents a harvest that is consistent with the goal of stabilizing the bear population to remain within 4,500 to 6,000 bears, according to Fish & Wildlife Department bear biologist Forrest Hammond.
While 2014 bear harvest numbers nearly matched 2013 numbers, the timing of the harvest differed significantly. Bear hunters were much more successful this year during the early days of the hunt with 263 bears taken in September, nearly double last year’s September harvest.
Hammond cited a decline in available foods and early snowfalls in 2014 as being responsible for the change in the timing of the harvest. “Our surveys of nut-producing mast trees such beech, oak and hickory indicated that only acorns were plentiful among fall food sources this year,” said Hammond. “Unfortunately for the bears, oak trees are not widespread in Vermont, occurring mostly in the Connecticut River Valley and the Taconic Range in southwestern Vermont, so many bears moved to these areas of the state in search of food.”
Hammond noted that the town of Rockingham in the southern Connecticut River Valley, which is not normally recognized as having a large bear population, had the largest number of bears taken of any town in the state at 12 bears.
“Bears also spent more time in September searching for food in open cornfields, making them more easily spotted by hunters and increasing the early season success rate,” said Hammond.
A total of 458 bears were harvested during the early bear season while 109 were taken by hunters during the late bear season, which overlaps with the November deer season. November snowfalls may have driven bears into dens earlier than usual this year, which may account for the lower harvest during the late bear season when many hunters are out, but the bears were not.
Hammond also noted that participation in the early bear season was higher than anticipated, with 12,390 hunters choosing to purchase a $5 early season bear tag, an increase of nearly 2,000 tags from the previous year.
“Between an abundant population, a long hunting season and the potential of harvesting delicious and nutritious bear meat, Vermonters and visitors are becoming increasingly interested in hunting this big game animal,” said Hammond.

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