March 21, 2023

Maine’s Bear Hunting Season Outlook a Shell Game

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When I was perhaps 8 years old, I got one of my first lessons, through joke telling, of how sometimes the milkman delivered more than just milk….wink, wink! The joke goes something like this. A very young boy, with a very distinct speech impediment, came to his mother one day and asked, “Mom, why do I talk this way?” The mother did not want to address the issue and so told her son to go ask his father.

And so he did. “Dad, why do I talk this way?” The father also shirking his responsibilities told his son to go ask his brother, which he did and was told to go ask the milkman.

Waiting patiently for the milkman to arrive on the front steps, upon arrival the boy ran to the milkman and asked, “Mr. Milkman, why do I talk this way?” To which the milkman responded in an identical and very distinct speech impediment, “Gee, I don’t know son!”

In Maine, the hunting season on black bears is in full swing. I saved many of the news articles and press releases prior to the bear season telling hunters what they can expect this season. In addition to these news accounts, there also included stories of bears interacting with humans and some of the excuses given by officials as to why. And now with the bear season in progress, we are left wondering if anything we were told about the bear situation was even true at all. I suppose it’s time to go and ask the milkman.

In August the debates were numerous around the state of humans encountering bears as reports were doubled from a year ago. On August 28, the Portland Press Herald (PPH) carried a story of how bears were “on the prowl”. As was typical in just about every account I read and heard about, the selected excuse to pass on to the press was that there is no natural food for bears to eat.

Jennifer Vashon, a bear biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said of the bears, “There is a lot of opportunity for bear. The drought means natural food is low. And our bear season is really tied to the natural food crop.” The lack of natural food gets the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) off the hook to explain that the reason for so many bear encounters with humans is tied to food and not too many bears.

And of course in attempts to promote the upcoming bear hunt, explaining that bears are hungry and on the move and will be easier to bait and bag.

On the 27th of August, I received a press release in my email from MDIFW announcing the beginning of bear hunting season. I posted it on this same blog for readers. In that presser, MDIFW, once again, explained that the reason for such a lousy bear hunting season last year was because of too much food. And, just as was repeated in the PPH piece, MDIFW says there is no natural food and hunters should have a good season. Just to recap. Last year – poor hunting season = too much food. Expected this year – good hunting season = no natural food. Got it!

With no natural food, as MDIFW has blown their horn about, hunters probably shouldn’t expect to find big, fat bears as they would when there was ample food, even though they might not see so many. However, on September 7, 2012, John Holyoke, at the Bangor Daily News, gave us an informational article of one hunter who bagged a 600-pound bear on the second day of his hunt. An anomaly I guess? Or perhaps not.

Randy Cross, another biologist at MDIFW, said usually large black bears harvested in Maine, are taken later in the season, I assume meaning the bears have had more time to fatten up. Part of this assumption comes because the article spends a fair amount of time, quoting Randy Cross on how quickly bears can fatten up in the late fall readying themselves for hibernation. Cross relays two instances to note: one was a bear gaining 210 pounds in 12 weeks and another fattening up 65 pounds in 16 days. (Note to self: Lay off the Dunkin’ Donuts)

This one 600 pound bear was obviously not a lean mean fighting machine due to lack of eating. Perhaps he had been feasting on the bait set out by the guides prior to the opening of hunting season. But none of this explains what Randy Cross meant in this comment:

And while food is still available, bears are still growing rapidly during the early part of the season, Cross said.

Wait! “While food is still available?” We have been told all summer long that there was very little natural food. So where did this “available” food come from? Are there that many bait stations?

And if that isn’t enough to make sportsmen wonder just what the heck, the Portland Press Herald rushes in to save the day by publishing an article all about how the bear harvest is so low all due to a bad economy.

Mr. Milkman! Why do I talk this way?”