2012 N.H. Bear Hunt Outlook
By Andrew Timmins, N.H. Fish and Game Bear Project Leader
Posted August 21, 2012
The 2012 bear hunting season, which begins September 1 in all regions of the state, should be very productive for those hunting bruins in the “Granite State.” New Hampshire’s bear population is very strong, with an estimated total population of 5,000 animals.
Bear densities are relatively consistent with population management objectives in all of the state’s six bear management regions. Bear densities are highest in the northernmost three management regions, but the southern part of the state also offers good bear hunting opportunity.
New Hampshire is one of the most diverse states in which to hunt black bear. Hunters have the ability to hunt bear in New Hampshire using three different methods – stalking, baiting and hounding – over the course of the season. Only six other states in the U.S. allow hunters to use all three methods of bear hunting. Season lengths and dates vary by region and method. Hunters must refer to the 2012-2013 NH Hunting and Trapping Digest for specific season dates (click here and on publication cover).
The 2012 bear harvest is expected to increase from recent levels, resulting in higher hunter success rates. Annual food conditions significantly influence the annual harvest level and success rate. Current natural food conditions across the state suggest that hunters will have an exciting fall and likely will encounter a lot of bear activity. Regardless of which method of bear hunting is used, overall harvest tallies and success rates fluctuate from one year to the next as a result of variation in mast crop production (acorns and other nuts). When their favorite fall foods are absent, bears spend more time searching for food, cover a greater area and become more vulnerable to hunter harvest. Conversely, during food-rich years, bears do not need to travel far to find adequate food and do not encounter hunters as frequently.
Early season scouting is the key to success. Bears are motivated by food, and they are very good at locating the highest quality food in their home range. Finding these pockets of high-quality food and looking for fresh bear sign will result in exciting hunting opportunities. Bears will travel great distances to good food sources, and they tend to congregate in areas of abundant food. Areas containing plentiful berry-producing species and hardwood ridges are great places to look for bear sign in late August and September.
While bears will target a wide variety of food items during the fall, the list can be boiled down. During September, anticipate that bears will focus their feeding activity on blackberries, chokecherries, apples, black cherries and acorns. Bears tend to focus on fruits and berries during early fall and nuts later in the fall; however usage is strongly dictated by abundance. Hard mast (e.g., acorns and beechnuts) is the highest-quality food available to bears this time of year. When these crops are abundant, bears will switch to this food source, regardless of the availability of other foods. Hunters should monitor nut production in oak and beech stands and look for bear activity.
Natural food supplies have been generally limited in most areas this summer, but should improve as fall approaches. While the blueberry crop was fairly good in many areas, the raspberry crop was very poor. Raspberries are a favored summer food item for bears. At the time of this writing, it is still unknown how the blackberry crop will fare. Abundant blossoms were observed this spring, but the fruit is not yet ripe. The fruit also looks somewhat undersized and underdeveloped. Abundant rainfall during August will help ensure that the fruit plumps up and ripens well. Apple crops appear spotty, and fruit production ranges from poor to fair, depending on location. Chokecherries produced fair crops but fruit loads appear lower than most years. Many oaks appear to have good numbers of acorns. Acorns are expected to be the most utilized food source by bears this fall. Beechnuts production looks poor this year. In the absence of abundant natural foods, corn fields are also good places to hunt bear. Corn crops serve as bear magnets in some years.
The 2012 bear season should be exciting and productive for hunters. Exploring new areas for abundant food and recent bear activity adds to the hunting experience and is a great way to learn about the feeding behaviors of black bears. If bears are actively feeding in an area, abundant sign (tracks, scats, broken branches) will be evident. It is always important to remember that daytime temperatures often remain warm during September and October, and proper care is necessary to avoid spoiling of meat during this early season, so hunters need to plan accordingly when attempting to take a bear. Good luck this fall!