Go Now For New England's Black Bears

Go Now For New England's Black Bears

Four out of six New England states currently have bear hunting seasons on the books, and by all estimates, the number of bears in each state has never been higher. If you have always wanted a bear skin rug but never had the chance, now is the time to head for the woods.

MAINE

Scattered across Maine are 29 units of Maine Public Reserve Land totaling more than 500,000 acres. Two of the largest public areas are in bear-rich Aroostook and Piscataquis counties.

In Aroostook County, about 30 miles southwest of Fort Kent, the Deboullie parcel covers 22,000 acres. About three-quarters of the property consists of gently rolling, forested hills, while the southeastern quarter features a number of small ponds surrounded by low, rugged mountains.

The territory around Black Mountain north of Deboullie Pond, the ridges and higher elevations south of Gardner Pond and the country around Whitman Mountain west of Island Pond should offer prime hunting opportunities.

The Deboullie property includes all of Township 15, Range 9 WELS and is within the boundaries of the North Maine Woods, a large block of private land open to the public. Visitors must register and pay camping or day-use fees to access the area. The road south from the St. Francis Checkpoint off Route 161 west of Fort Kent provides the best access and primary access route.

The North Maine Woods office may be contacted by telephoning (207) 435-6213.

The Deboullie property offers a great deal of room to hunt in prime bear range, but hunters should be aware this is big woods country and advance scouting is advised. Also, the Maine Department of Conservation, Bureau of Parks and Lands, which manages the property, has specific rules pertaining to the setting of baits on state lands, forcing hunters to rely on finding food sources and calling techniques or scents to hunt bears.

Despite its size, however, the Deboullie property offers miles of roads and an extensive network of hiking trails that may be utilized to access potential hunting areas. Primary trailheads depart near Dennys and Pushineer Ponds, and at the boat access at the base of Deboullie Mountain on Deboullie Pond.

Camping is allowed on the property and primitive campsites with tables, fire rings and pit toilets will be found around the pond.

There are special rules regarding the use of ATVs and discharge of firearms within 300 feet of campsites, hiking trails and launch areas. Loaded firearms are prohibited at all campsites.

More information on the Deboullie property may be obtained by contacting the Bureau of Parks and Lands Northern Regional Office in Ashland at (207) 435-7963, or the bureau's main office in Augusta at (207) 287-3821. A downloadable map and brochure will also be found on the agency's Web site at www.maine. gov/doc/parks.

One of the largest public reserve properties in Maine is the Nahmakanta tract about halfway between Greenville and Millinocket. The property covers nearly 44,000 acres in T1, R11 WELS and T1 R12 WELS in central Piscataquis County. The area offers a "big woods" hunting experience with a mixture of mountains and rolling hills broken by numerous lakes and ponds.

The northeast corner of the property, known as the Debsconeag Backcountry, features a complex of low hills and mountains and is accessible only by hiking trail. The trail is more than 12 miles long and leads into some prime bear country.

A string of gravel roads provide access to other parts of the property, and several other trails travel along wooded ridges to other remote areas. A popular snowmobile trail also travels through the property.

Camping is allowed, and sites accessible by vehicle will be found on many of the ponds. Other campsites may be reached by boat for the more adventurous at heart.

Camping is allowed anywhere on the property, but campfires may be built only at designated campsites.

A map and brochure with more information is available on the Bureau of Parks and Lands Web site given previously. Additional information may also be obtained by contacting the Bureau's Eastern Regional Office in Old Town at (207) 827-1818.

There are several access routes to this public land, but the most popular is from Route 11, about halfway between Millinocket and Brownsville Junction. From Route 11, it is about 15 miles on Jo-Mary Road to the property. Hunters are required to register and pay camping and day-use fees at the Katahdin Iron Works/Jo-Mary checkpoint. For information, call (207) 435-6213.

Access is also possible from Kokadjo northeast of Moosehead Lake.

Maine has the largest number of black bears in New England. Entering the 1990s, the Pine Tree State's bear population was estimated at about 18,000 and is currently estimated at around 23,000.

All hunters must possess a big-game hunting license, as well as a bear-hunting permit .

Historically, resident and non-resident hunters could legally kill bears without a bear-hunting permit during the deer firearms season in November. In 2008, however, a new regulation went into effect requiring non-resident hunters and aliens to be in possession of a November bear-hunting permit if they do not already possess a valid bear-hunting permit.

For more information on bear hunting, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife by telephoning (207) 287-800, or visit the department's Web site at www. maine.gov/ifw.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Most of the bears in the Granite State are taken in the central and northern regions each year.

In the central region, the White Mountain National Forest covers 728,150 acres and is the largest tract of public land in the state. Hunting is allowed throughout the forest, but the discharge of firearms is prohibited within 150 yards of buildings, campsites and developed recreational areas. There are regulations on the use of ATVs.

For more information on where ATVs may be used, contact the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails by telephoning (603) 271-3254, or visit the bureau's Web site at www.nhtrails. org.

The White Mountain National Forest offers some of the most rugged mountain terrain in the northeast, but a great deal of it is good bear range. According to New Hampshire Fish and Game Department biologists, the bear density in the region is 1.1 bears per square mile, the highest in the state.

For more information on hunting the White Mountain National Forest, camping and maps, contact the Forest Supervisor's office by telephoning (603) 528-8721, or visit the forest's Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/white.

In the northern New Hampshire towns of Columbia, Stratford and Odell, Nash Stream State Forest covers 40,000 acres. It is the largest state forest in the state and offers varied topography including several mountains, rolling hills, ridges and bogs.

Much of the forest is rugged and isolated, but offers plenty of room to hunt. The bear density in this part of the state is nearly one bear per square mile, the second-highest bear density in the state.

Access is possible from Route 110 using North Avenue Side Road or Emerson Road in Stark. From Emerson Road, Nash Stream Road travels north through the forest and leads to the ridges on the side of Muise Mountain. Side roads lead to Boman Valley along Long Meadow Brook and to Little Bog and along the East Branch of Nash Stream. On the north end of Nash Bog Pond, the Columbia Road travels along Nash Stream to Cranberry Bog Notch, all good spots to look for bears.

A map of Nash Stream State Forest will be found on New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands Web site at www.nhdfl.org.

For information on camping, contact the Division's North Country Resources Center in Lancaster by telephoning (603) 788-4157.

According to state biologists, New Hampshire's black bears are doing well. The state's bear population is considered strong and stable. Bears are now present in each of the state's 10 counties and number approximately 4,800 animals.

New Hampshire's general bear season traditionally opens statewide on or around Sept. 1, but ending dates vary depending on wildlife management unit. The dates during which hunters may hunt over bait and use hounds also vary.

Hunters should check the current hunting regulations summary for closing dates and periods and units when bait and hounds may be used.

Special permits are required to hunt over bait and special rules are in effect when hunting with hounds. Baiting applications may be picked up the New Hampshire Fish and Game regional offices in Durham, Keene, New Hampton and Lancaster, at the headquarters in Concord and from local wardens.

To legally hunt bears in New Hampshire, hunters must possess a resident or non-resident hunting license as well as a resident or non-resident bear-hunting permit. Licenses cost $16 and $48, respectively. Bear permits cost $22 and $103, respectively. All hunters must also pay an annual $2.50 habitat fee when purchasing licenses.

For more information, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3421, or visit the department's Web site at www.wildlife.state.nh.us.

In Vermont, the bear population is estimated at between 4,500 and 5,700 animals, or one bear per three square miles! The Green Mountain State's bear density is one of the highest in the country.

VERMONT

The largest bear densities in Vermont are found along the Green Mountains and in the northeast region. There are two prime public hunting areas in these regions in the form of wildlife management areas.

Lewis Creek WMA is in the town of Starksboro. It covers a total of 2,020 acres on the western slopes of a small mountain range that forms the eastern side of Lewis Creek Valley.

East Mountain is on its western boundary, while Hillsboro Mountain is on its east side. The area also extends eastward over a ridgeline into the Huntington River drainage. In between are a series of rolling hills and ridges varying between 900 and 2,000 feet in elevation. The area is heavily forested with hardwoods, including oak and beech, both of which attract bears, and there is evidence of old apples orchards that are maintained for wildlife.

From Route 116 north of Bristol, Little Ireland Road or Hillsboro Road lead to parking areas. Hillsboro Road is best traveled by four-wheel-drive vehicles. From the parking area, several old roads lead to some good bear habitat.

In 2000, property was added connecting the Lewis Creek WMA to the Huntington Gap WMA on the west side of Route 17 in the towns of Huntington, Buels Gore and Fayston.

Huntington Gap WMA covers an additional 1,568 acres of hardwood forest on the western slopes of the Green Mountains between Burnt Rock Mountain and Molly Stark Mountain, including Huntington Gap.

Another prime spot for bears is the West Mountain WMA in the northeast Vermont towns of Maidstone, Ferdinand and Brunswick. The area covers 22,738 acres and runs from Maidstone Lake north to Route 105 and east from South America Road to the Connecticut River. Miles of dirt roads travel through the property, but the primary access points are off South America Road off Route 105 and off Maidstone and Paul Stream roads off Route 102.

Within its boundaries, West Mountain WMA offers a variety of habitats from high ridge hardwoods to lowland bogs. The area has plenty of room to hunt with plenty of prime habitat.

For more information or details on camping, the use of ATVs and maps of these areas, visit the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife Web site at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

For more information on bear hunting in Vermont, contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700, or visit its Web site at www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

Massachusetts is the only other state in New England that allows bear hunting. Its bear population is presently estimated at about 3,500 animals. Between 2,500 and 3,500 bear permits are sold annually, and, since 1997, when the harvest was just 78 animals, the number of bears killed has been as high as 153 (in 2003). In 2008, Bay State hunters killed 100 bears.

Most of the bears killed in Massachusetts each year are taken in the western part of the state, primarily Berkshire and Hampshire counties. The two counties are blessed with public hunting areas, including some of the state's largest.

One prime example is the Peru Wildlife Management Area. The property consists of two segments, a small block surrounding Tracey Pond in Peru and a much larger block in Peru and Windsor. Combined, the two blocks cover nearly 4,730 acres.

Because of its size and because it offers the best habitat, the larger block is of most interest to hunters. The terrain consists of rolling hills and ridges running from 1,530 feet in elevation to 2,150 feet. The ridges are covered with maple, birches, ash, black cherry, oak and beech. Remnants of old apple orchards are also present, as are several meadows and beaver ponds. The area also contains several small brooks, including Trout and Fuller brooks.

Hunters will find several informal pull-offs along Peru Road in Windsor (called Neauman Road in Peru) and at both ends of Mongue Road in Peru. Several four-wheel-drive roads also cut through the property.

Another good spot is Fox Den WMA in Middlefield, Worthington and Chester. Several blocks make up the 3,623-acre area featuring rolling hills covered with hardwoods. Elevations vary from about 700 feet along the Middle Branch Westfield River to 2,000 feet at Pelton Hill in Middlefield.

Primarily access areas include pull-offs along Main Road, Chipman Road and East River Road in Middlefield and along Buffington Hill Road and West Street in Worthington.

Other wildlife management areas in western Massachusetts worth getting to know and offer good hunting opportunities for bears include the 6,437-acre Chalet WMA in Cheshire, Dalton and Windsor and the Hiram H. Fox WMA in Chester, Chesterfield, Huntington and Worthington, which covers 2,951 acres.

Maps and additional information on these public hunting areas will be found on the MassWildlife Web site at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw.

Baiting and the use of hounds is prohibited in Massachusetts, so about 80 percent of the annual harvest is taken by still-hunters or stand hunters targeting likely feeding areas.

For more information on bear hunting in the Bay State, contact the MassWildlife offices at (508) 389-6300, or visit the department's Web site at www.masswildlife.org.

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