2001 Minnesota Bear Harvest Near Record

Minnesota hunters took 4,945 bears during the 2001 season, nearly equal to the record harvest of 4,956 taken in 1994, according to Steve Merchant of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Over the past two years the DNR has tried an earlier opener and an increased limit in an attempt to increase harvest without increasing the quota of licensed bear hunters.

Typically, the bear season opens on September 1, but in 2000 and 2001 the season opened on August 23 and August 22, respectively.  The earlier opener was intended to give hunters more opportunity to harvest bears before grouse hunters took to the woods and before the bears started denning, Merchant said.

Although two-thirds of the harvest this year occurred in August, Merchant said the effectiveness of the earlier opener was inconclusive.  "We couldn't tell if the early opener really contributed to the increased harvest because normally two-thirds of the bears are taken during the first week of the season, even with a September 1 opener,"  Merchant said.

In another experiment to increase harvest, the bear season limit was increased from one to two in 2001.  "We didn't really expect many hunters to take two bears,"  Merchant said, "But we thought they'd be less apt to pass up a shot at a small bear during the early part of the season."

During the 2001 season, 463 hunters, or 10 percent of those who were successful, actually took two bears.  Nearly 16,500 hunters had bear licenses of which 27 percent were successful.  This matches the average bear hunting success rate for the past 10 years, Garshelis said.

"Further analysis of the data and public input will determine whether we stick with the earlier opener or the two-bear limit," Merchant said.  "Because of the potential for bears to cause serious damage and nuisance problems, we're attempting to stabilize the bear population, which has been growing at about 6 percent per year for the past two decades, and is now at about 30,000."

The 2002 bear season opening date will be announced by March 1.  Additional details and application instructions for bear hunting quota area licenses will be available by April 1.  The application deadline is Friday, May 3.

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