Bears down, grouse are up this seasonMinnesota bear hunters are on track to take about 2,550 bears this fall, down slightly from 2,800 last year, said Dave Garshelis, bear project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids.
By: Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
Minnesota bear hunters are on track to take about 2,550 bears this fall, down slightly from 2,800 last year, said Dave Garshelis, bear project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Grand Rapids.
“It’s about what we were aiming for,” Garshelis said. “We were hoping for a harvest around 2,500 or 2,600.”
The DNR had reduced the number of permits available to hunters to allow the state’s bear population, estimated at 20,000, to increase a bit, Garshelis said.
The season opened Sept. 1 and will continue through Oct. 31. Most bears are taken early in the season. About 9,500 licenses were available to hunters, Garshelis said.
Hunters across Northeastern Minnesota reported that bears were coming to baits fairly regularly. In the No Quota Zone, where the habitat transitions from forest to prairie, acorns were plentiful and bears were not hitting baits as well, Garshelis said.
At the Trapper Himes Bear Camp near Ray, Dale Himes said the 31 hunters in his camp this fall were “50 percent on kill and 75 percent on opportunity,” meaning hunters saw bears but passed them up.
Bears were hitting baits all season, but not always when hunters were present.
“There are more bears than I’ve seen in 15 years,” Himes said. “But there’s a lot of food out there. We still have ripe blueberries in the swamps, and cranberries, both high and low bush.”
A total of 24 bears have been processed at The Bear’s Den in Twig, said owner Rob Parrot, up about 10 percent from last year. Parrot usually guides up to about 20 bear hunters per year, but this year only two of 18 hunters he booked drew licenses. One shot a bear, and the other passed up four bears because he was waiting for a larger one.
“I ran six baits, and every one was active,” Parrot said.
Bear guide Mike Bissonette of Babbitt had high hopes for the season, but those didn’t pan out.
“I thought it was going to be one of those really good years,” Bissonette said. “I had
multiple bears coming to every bait (before the season opened).”
But after the first day of the season, the weather turned cold and mushrooms sprouted everywhere. Bears didn’t visit Bissonette’s baits as frequently.
“We still got bears, but not what I expected,” he said. “I was expecting in the high 90s for success, but it was down around 30.”
A few weeks into ruffed grouse season and many hunters are already proclaiming it a banner year. Some hunters are finding mixed success depending on where they’re hunting, but many are finding lots of birds.
“This is the best grouse hunting I’ve seen since the ’90s,” said Darrell Spencer of Duluth. “In certain areas, I’m flushing 20-plus a day, hunting three or four hours. Last Saturday, I flushed 35 birds.”
Those numbers are outstanding, especially when compared to recent years.
Spencer has found most of his birds in the Chippewa National Forest area. So have others, said Ted Davey of Chalstrom’s Bait and Tackle.
“Oh, gosh. There’s lots of them,” Davey said. “It seems like everybody has filled out no problem, from here up to toward Pequaywan (Lake). It’s the best year I ever remember.”
Spring drumming counts were down 31 percent from last year across Northeastern Minnesota, but hens must have produced some healthy broods this past spring.
Last year was supposed to have been the peak in the ruffed grouse 10-year population cycle, and drumming count numbers this year remain respectable.
“In general, we’re hearing very few complaints. People are saying good things. Not always exceptional, but some very good ones,” said Ted Dick, ruffed grouse coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Aitkin. “I’m hearing about good numbers from Grand Marias over to Ely and up to Koochiching County.
“The birds are there. They were probably there last year. But with this weather, people are having a lot more fun.”
Hunters also are reporting good woodcock numbers, Dick said. Spring singing-ground counts were up 21 percent in Minnesota.
“We think the numbers are pretty good,” he said.
But most hunters are looking for grouse.
“There seems to be a lot of birds,” said avid grouse hunter Doug Nelson of Virginia. “Last Saturday, out with a German shorthair, we flushed 20 birds and got six.”