Fall 2015’s first general hunt season opens Saturday morning, Aug. 1, for black bear in five of Washington’s eleven bruin hunt areas.
Available then to bear hunters west of the Cascades are the Coastal, Puget Sound and North Cascades black bear management units. In eastern Washington, bear hunting starts only in the East Cascades and Columbia Basin black bear management units.
Opening for the lesser bruin Saturday, Aug. 15, are the Okanogan, Northeastern B and South Cascades black bear management zones. The last bear lairs to become available this fall, on Tuesday, Sept. 1, will be the Northeastern A, Blue Mountains and Long Island management zones.
Washington’s wildlife managers currently characterize the state’s black bear population (at between 25,000 to 30,000 animals) as being healthy and abundant throughout this state’s nine discrete black bear management zones.
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BERRY CROP DOWN, FIND WATER
This year’s intra-annual climate deviations will put a few twists in bruin behavior.
The lack of snowpack at mid- and even some upper-elevation mountainous locales this past winter allowed hard freezes to nip fruit bearing outer stems on native huckleberry and blueberry stands substantially reducing to this summer’s crop.
Insofar as bruin ala carte menus are concerned, spring and early summer grass and ground cover vegetation fared better than the bush plants. Despite the current reduced precipitation, timely mid-April snowfall appears to have provided enough moisture to foster normal growth of this early summer basic bear grazing forage.
So it’s in wet forest meadow and creek ravine locales where most of the bear sign currently is being found. In many second growth conifer stands at all elevations some bears turn just after emergence to quick carb (sugar) source clawing the base of Douglas fir and true fir trunks to make them bleed sap. With the dry weather and fewer berries, that sweet-tooth taste may persist this year.
Black bears characteristically move and forage at dawn and dusk from mid- to late summer as afternoon temperatures reach stifling levels that force them to cooler cover.
Characterized as omnivores, bears have broad appetites that range from smaller animals up to deer fawns and elk calves as well as many plants and their fruits to carrion and garbage of all kinds and origins. They forage over fairly large territories gravitating to whatever food options are available at the time in different habitats. If the food source is concentrated and large enough they’ll stay nearby to guard and return to it.
In this early period of the hunt, watching valley bottom marshes or wet lower portions of avalanche chutes at dawn or dusk often pays off. The key according to most successful bear hunters is taking a stand that covers a good spread habitat and then patiently waiting for the attending adult bear that’s likely coveting the area’s larder to show up.
BEAR LEGAL ESSENTIALS
When participating in this hunt, black bear stalkers:
▪ must have one of five versions of a valid 2015 Washington big game license that includes black bear together with a free, first bear-specific transport tag. A second black bear license and tag must be purchased ($24 resident fee, $13 youth under age 16) to hunt for and take bear number two.
▪ are allowed to kill two black bears a year in Washington under the following proviso: both may come from game management units west of the Cascades, however only one of the annual take of two may be from Eastern Washington.
▪ may hunt with any one of the otherwise legal big game hunting weapons including bow and arrow, modern firearms or black powder rifle.
▪ are barred statewide from using bait of any kind nor may they use dogs to pursue and take black bear. Also of note to both landowners and hunters, it could be considered a violation of the baiting ban to shoot black bears during the season that have been attracted to and are in close proximity to garbage accumulations, pet food or livestock fodder.
▪ need to be able to unequivocally to tell the difference between grizzly bears that are protected under state and federal laws) and huntable black bears. Washington, together with Montana and Wyoming, have on-line pictorial-based field simulated bruin ID exams. Washington’s and Wyoming’s are voluntary aids to hunters but to hunt black bear in Montana, you must successfully pass its test.
▪ are requested to refrain from deliberately or inadvertently shooting sows that could have a cub or cubs in tow. To that end hunters are urged to look carefully for young-of-the-year or yearling blacks that could be lagging behind their mother.
The 2015 fall black bear hunting season across the state comes uniformly to a close Tuesday, Nov. 15. However bruin hunters may again take up arms in April of 2016 for the spring permit hunt. Details for this opportunity can be found on page 70 of Washington’s 2015 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations pamphlet.
Drawing applications may be submitted from Friday, Jan. 2, to Monday, Feb. 29.
WHEN THE HUNT’S OVER
Persons who buy Washington big game hunting licenses to hunt black bears are required by regulation to provide a specific biological sampling from their kill(s) as well as a formal rendition of their bruin-specific hunting efforts.
The biologic submittal is the whole first, pre-molar tooth pulled from just behind either of the upper jaw’s canine teeth. The department provides postage-paid, tooth-mailing envelopes upon request to hunters who have killed their first or second animal.
If you’ve killed a bear and need to request an envelope, call 425-775-1311.
The other postseason must-do for holders of Washington big game license/transport tags for black bear is the big game species hunter report.
Tag holders can make this online or telephonic report for each tag they have up to the last day of January every year (unless the deadline date is changed). Extensions are granted for special seasons lasting beyond the end of January.
State law requires every tag holder to report on each tag they buy even if they subsequently did not go hunting at all or did venture afield but did not fill their tag.
Hunters are encouraged to make reports when they end their hunting activity or at the close of their season earlier in the fall rather than wait until the last minute in the new year.
The name of every hunter making their report(s) before Jan. 10 each year will be entered in incentive drawing pools that will award a limited number of special permits for the following year.
Persons failing to make their report in a timely fashion will have to pay a $10 civil penalty to get their next year’s hunting license.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald’s outdoors correspondent, since 1983, has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at bellinghamherald.com/outdoors-blog.
HATCHERY AND FLOW INFO
This week’s Skagit hatchery and flow info:
Baker Lake Hatchery (Baker sockeye): 23,600 sockeye trapped & transferred (17,928 to Baker Lake, as of July 14, 3,753 to hatchery). Same week total in 2014 – 3,977 adult sockeye to hatchery.
LAKE LEVEL – Upper Baker Reservoir
Recent: As of Saturday, July 25 the lake was at 724.08 feet above sea level, raising slightly the past three days.
Forecast: No prediction for this gauge. Full pool is 727.77 feet above sea level.
MORE ABOUT BLACK BEARS
Washington’s 2015 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Regulations pamphlet: wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/.
2015-2021 Washington Game Management Plan Pages 101-106:wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01676/.
Washington game harvest reports 1997-2014: wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/harvest/.
Montana Bear Identification Program: fwp.mt.gov/education/hunter/bearID/.
Wyoming Bear Identification Exam: gf.state.wy.us/bearexam/index.asp.
Washington Black/Grizzly Identification Program: wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/bear_cougar/bear/index.html