A poor wild food crop in the woods due to summer drought sent many bears to hunters' bait piles during the first week of the hunting season, and that has the early bear hunting success in Minnesota very high.
Hunters registered 2,226 bears through Tuesday, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. That’s up 23% over the same time last year.
If past harvest trends hold — without about 70% of the harvest in the first week and 30% after — that would mean a season-long harvest of over 3,000 bears, by far the highest harvest in recent years.
This year's harvest has nearly met last year’s total season harvest of 2,327. Over the last seven years, bear harvest in the state has ranged from a low of 1,672 in 2014 to a high of 2,633 in 2016.
Dan Stark, Minnesota DNR large carnivore specialist, said the last time the bear harvest topped 3,000 was 2007.
This year’s season started Sept. 1 and continues through Oct. 18.
Across the state’s bear range, the harvest has been 54% male, but in some areas of more severe drought, more females have been harvested, which could cause long-term population issues if females are overharvested. In the Tower area, for example, 55 % of the bears registered so far have been females.
The bear season success story was emerging even before the season started, with many hunters' bear baits getting hit by mutliple bears in late August and nuisance bear compalints coming in from across the Northland all summer long.
“Harvest levels across bear permit areas seems consistent with reports of poor food conditions,’’ Stark told the News Tribune, adding that a high harvest in 2020 “will likely slow or reduce any recent increase in bear numbers.”