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Bear Hunt Forecast

By Andrew Timmins, NH Fish and Game Bear Project Leader

Posted August 3, 2017


Black Bear

As bear hunters hit the New Hampshire woods starting September 1, odds are extremely good of finding ample bear activity and successfully harvesting a bear. With the current bear population estimated at 6,100 animals, bears are abundant and at or above the desired population goal in most areas of the state. This means that hunting seasons are fairly liberal in many regions thereby allowing increased hunting opportunity. While bear densities remain highest in the three northernmost management regions, there are ample numbers of bears in the more southern regions, presenting exciting opportunities for good hunter success. The length of the bear season is more liberal in regions with higher bear densities, many of which have bear and deer seasons that overlap. Hunters have the ability to hunt bear using three different methods including stalking, baiting, and hounding over the course of the season. Season lengths and dates vary by region and method. Hunters must refer to the 2017-2018 NH Hunting and Trapping Digest for specific season dates.


At the time of this writing, Department biologists have been busy assessing mast production across the state. To date, summer and fall mast crops have been looking good, representing a tremendous improvement over last year at this time. This summer saw good crops of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries in many areas. The increased abundance of summer foods has resulted in a notable decrease in reported bear-human conflicts during 2017. As we transition to fall, it appears that blackberry, chokecherry, mountain ash, and apple will produce very strong crops. In addition to soft mast crops, it is looking like there will be an abundant crop of beechnuts this fall. Acorn crops will likely be spotty, but perhaps locally abundant. Most areas saw good acorn crops in 2016, and production this fall will likely not be as strong.


For the bear hunter, recommended food crops to focus on this fall include blackberries (particularly during the early part of the season), beechnuts, and apples. For the more adventurous hunter who wants to hit the high ground, mountain ash berries will be an important fall food. It is also worth checking cornfields for bear activity. While bear activity in corn fluctuates depending on mast crops (corn usage by bears decreases when food is abundant in the woods), there tends to be some corn use by bears in most years. In areas where beech is less abundant and acorn crops may be down, some bears will supplement their diets with corn.


As a reminder to hunters, there have been past Department rule changes that directly relate to bear hunting which hunters should be aware of. First, a 2016 rule states that no person shall establish, tend, or hunt over a bait containing chocolate or any cocoa derivative. Additionally, rules were established in 2016 that clarified that dogs shall not be run from bait and that bear guide tags are non-transferable between guides. Additional rules regarding the guiding for bear were established and are available in the current N.H. Hunting Digest or on the Bear Hunting webpage.


Given the varied nature of bear foods this fall, scouting remains an integral part of hunter success. When bears locate abundant food, they tend not to travel as far to forage. The hunter must find the specific ridge or berry patch that bears are hitting. It is not difficult to detect bear usage of a particular area or food source. Look for tracks and scat. Examine the scat, as remnants of what bears have been eating will be in the scat. When bears are working berry patches, trails in the vegetation and broken branches will be evident. When looking for feeding activity in oak or beech stands, look for scats containing nut fragments, recent claw marks on trees (very evident on beech, less so on oak), busted branches under the canopy of the tree, and bear “nests” in the crown. When checking acorn and beech crops, bring binoculars to canvas the crown of the tree and break open fallen nuts to determine if they contain viable "meat."


The 2017 bear hunting season should be very good, based on the fact that bear populations are strong across the state. While it is challenging to predict how productive the fall mast crop will be, early indications suggest that there will be an ample supply of varied bear foods in the woods. Hunters who spend the time deciphering which foods bears are focused on will have great hunting opportunities and a good chance at a New Hampshire bruin.