Will Mainers ever hunt bears again in the spring? We already can on Tribal lands.

NOTE: After you read this column, please take the “Spring Bear Hunting” survey, in the Sportsmen Say Survey section on my website: www.georgesmithmaine.com. 

bear DIF&W imageThe Maine legislature banned spring bear hunting in 1982. It was a decision based on politics, not science.

I am looking at an article on spring bear hunting in the June 2014 Bowhunting World magazine, trumpeting “Travel to true adventure by bowhunting Western black bears this spring.”

The magazine favors spring hunts in Oregon, New Mexico, Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and many Canadian provinces. Baiting is allowed in Alaska, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming and much of Canada.

Maine’s history

From 1770 to 1957, Maine paid bounties for dead bears and they were considered and treated as pests until 1931, when hunting seasons were introduced. From 1942 to 1965, bears were hunted year-round. Until 1969 we didn’t even monitor the harvest.

In 1982, a major battle over spring bear hunting erupted in the Maine legislature. That’s a tale for another time. That’s when we lost spring hunting – the time that many hunters and guides believe is the best to hunt bears.

Decline in hunters

Maine’s sale of bear hunting permits peaked in 2002, when 7,855 residents and 7,373 nonresidents hunted bears here. A fairly steady decline in bear hunters began in 2003. Hunter numbers for 2013 are not yet available from Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. But in 2012, 4,606 residents and 4,962 nonresidents purchased bear hunting permits.

Maine’s spring hunt

The Passamaquoddy Tribe began offering spring bear hunts in 2006 and the Penobscot Tribe hosted its first spring bear hunts in 2009.

The tribes have autonomy over wildlife management on tribal lands, so the state ban on spring bear hunting does not apply to them.

The tribes allocate the opportunity to offer spring bear hunts to some nontribal guides and outfitters. Google “spring bear hunting in Maine” and those opportunities will come up.

Interestingly, there has not been a peep of opposition to the spring bear hunt on Tribal lands – not even from national animal rights groups. And yes, these spring hunts include baiting!

PHOTO: Taken by Darrold Dorr, found on DIF&W’s website.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.