Bear hunting season began on Monday, Aug. 25 at 5:19 a.m. throughout Maine. Last year, more than 10,000 hunters purchased permits to hunt bear and 2,845 bears were killed.

Black bear populations are growing throughout North America, and due to Maine’s heavily forested landscape, Maine boasts one of the largest bear populations in the United States at more than 30,000 bears. As a result, Maine has one of the longest hunting seasons in the country, stretching from the end of August to after Thanksgiving.

“Hunting is the department’s tool for managing this thriving bear population,” said Jennifer Vashon, one of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s bear biologists. “And due to Maine’s dense forest, bear hunting with dogs and with bait are essential for controlling Maine’s bear population.”

Department bear biologists expect bait hunters to do well this year as the availability of many natural foods has been delayed or are in low supply due to the cool, wet spring. Over a span of 40 years, Maine’s bear study has shown that not only does the availability of natural foods drive bear cub survival and bear birth rates, but it also directly influences when bears den for the winter, as well as hunter success rates. In poor natural food years, hunter success is higher than in years when natural food is abundant.

Availability of natural foods also fuels nuisance bear complaints. In 2013, when there was a good natural food crop, nuisance complaints dropped to 311, well under the five-year average of approximately 500 complaints per year. This year, due to poor natural foods, nuisance complaints have increased to more than 600.

Maine’s bear hunting season is divided into three segments. Hunters can hunt bears with bait from Aug. 25 to Sept. 20; hunters can hunt bears with dogs from Sept. 8 through Oct. 31; and hunters can still hunt or stalk from Aug. 25 through Nov. 29. The trapping season runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.

One is allowed to take up to two bears during the year; one by hunting and one by trapping. More than 90 percent of the bear harvest occurs during the first four weeks of the season when hunters can use the traditional methods of hunting with dogs and baiting.

Maine is one of 32 states that allow bear hunting. In the 32 states that allow bear hunting, nearly three-quarters of the states (23) allow either hunting with dogs, bait or both.

Since 2004, Maine’s bear population has increased by more than 30 percent and is estimated at more than 30,000 animals. Bear/human conflicts have also increased in frequency in the past 10 years, with the department responding to an average of 500 nuisance bear calls a year.

Even with the lengthy bear season, only about 25 percent of all bear hunters are successful. By contrast, 72 percent of moose hunters, and 32 percent of turkey hunters were successful last year.

Deer hunters who hunted last year with an any-deer permit had a 58 percent success rate according to surveys; while without an any-deer permit, deer hunters had an 18 percent success rate. Historically, deer hunters success rates are in the 15 percent range.

Maine’s black bear population is closely monitored by department biologists through one of the most extensive, longest-running biological studies in the U.S. The study began in 1975 and continues today. Over nearly 40 years, department biologists have captured and tracked more than 3,000 bears to determine the health and condition of Maine’s bears and estimate how many cubs are born each year.

Successful bear hunters are reminded that it is mandatory to submit a tooth from their bear when registering. Tagging agents will provide envelopes and instructions to hunters as to how to remove the tooth. Biologists age the tooth, and the biological data collected help biologists adjust season lengths and bag limits for bears.

Hunters must have a bear permit in addition to a big game hunting license to hunt bear in Maine. Bear hunting is most popular and bear populations are the densest in the northern and downeast regions of the state.

The bear season is carefully regulated. Maine Game Wardens will be patrolling the woods of Maine ensuring that bait areas, hunting stands and blinds are labeled properly, and they will enforce all other laws pertaining to the hunting of bears.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.