Where To Find New York's Fall Black Bears

These tried-and-true hotspots will put you in range of a trophy Empire State black bear if you do your homework and are willing to do some hiking! (October 2009)

The Empire State's black bear population continues to thrive, with increasing numbers each year. There are currently an estimated 7,500 to 8,000 black bears in the state, according to Jeremy Hurst, a big game biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In general, New York black bear harvest numbers have increased over the past two decades. Last year's harvest was 1,295 bruins, up from 1,117 in 2007.

New wildlife management units opened for bear hunting in 2008 will continue to provide hunters with expanded harvest opportunities this fall. The additional WMUs include parts of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Wyoming, Genesee, Monroe, Livingston, Wayne, Ontario, Seneca, Yates, Steuben, Schuyler, Tompkins, Tioga, Cortland, Broome, Chenango, Madison, Onondaga, Oneida and Otsego counties.

The new regulations allow for bowhunting, regular season and muzzleloader season bear hunting in the Southern Zone. Specifically, WMUs 7M, 7R, 7S, 8H, 8N, 8P, 8R, 8S, 9G and 9H were opened for the taking of bears during the archery, regular and muzzleloading seasons.

The Northern Zone 2009 early bear season runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 16. The archery season runs from Sept. 27 to Oct. 23. The regular season runs from Oct. 24 to Dec. 6, and the muzzleloader season is Oct. 17-23. Unfilled prior year big-game tags may be used before Oct. 1.

The Southern Zone 2009 archery season runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 20 and Dec. 14-22. The regular season in the Catskills runs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 13. The regular season in the Allegany range runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 13, and the muzzleloader season runs is Dec. 14-22. Season dates are the same as for adjacent units traditionally open to bear hunting in the Allegany region.

The New York big-game license includes a bear tag. The bag limit is one bear per hunter. In the Southern Zone, hunters may not take a cub, shoot any bear from a group of bears or take bears from their dens. In the Northern Zone, hunters are asked to submit part of the lower jaw or a tooth of the bear for data collection. Most taxidermists are willing to remove and submit teeth for aging.

In the Southern Zone, DEC wildlife staff prefers to examine each bear before it is skinned or butchered, but the agency does not expect hunters to wait so long for examinations that they sacrifice the quality of meat or hides.

BORDER OPTIONS

Bear sightings have been on the rise in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties over the past couple of decades. And hunters set a new record in the Allegany range last fall, bagging 193 bears. The increase may be because of, in part, to a healthy bruin population in northern Pennsylvania, as these animals frequently cross over into New York. Hunting close to the border between the two states is likely to increase the odds of bagging a bear in this region.

According to Timothy Spierto, the DEC's Region 9 wildlife biologist in charge of the Allegany range, areas like South Valley, Olean, Genesee, Bolivar and Alma traditionally produce good harvest numbers. A second area, consisting of rolling hills, mature forests and patches of agricultural lands in the towns of Randolph, Great Valley, Humphrey, Cuba and West Almond, is also a high producer during bear season.

"Consider hunting areas with lots of blowdowns, clearcuts and undergrowth," Spierto advised. "Bears are often found in areas where hunters least want to travel. Look up! Bears spooked by hunters sometimes tree before they come into view. At the same time, look for hard and soft mast. Apples, berries, cherries and nuts make up a large part of a bear's fall diet. Find the food, and you will increase your odds of finding a bear."

Spierto said not to rule out private lands.

"Farmers, beekeepers and ranchers have a tenuous relationship with bears," he said. "You might get access to some prime bear hunting just by asking."

Spierto said there are also several state forests in the area that will offer good opportunities for bear hunting this fall. In Cattaraugus County, Spierto recommended Ninemile State Forest, McCarty Hill State Forest and South Valley State Forest, the latter being his pick for best-bet bear hunting. In Allegany County, Spierto's top picks were Coyle Hill State Forest and Vandermark State Forest.

The South Valley and Pine Hill state forests span 5,300 acres on the western side of the Allegany Reservoir in Cattaraugus County.

"State forest lands may be accessed by traveling Bone Run Road, Sawmill Run Road and Brown Run Road, but travelers should consult local area maps," Spierto advised. "This area is a real gem when it comes to bear hunting and is greatly underutilized."

The Allegheny Reservoir Wildlife Management Area's 1,100 acres are nearby in South Valley along the western shore of the reservoir.

"Hunters need to be careful that they are not hunting on Seneca Nation lands, which requires separate authorization," Spierto said.

For more information about the hunting opportunities around Allegheny Reservoir, check DeLorme's New York Atlas and Gazetteer, maps 40 and 41.

"This piece of state land consists of approximately 6,000 acres of conifer and hardwood stands," Spierto said of McCarty Hill and Rock City state forests. "Large, rocky outcrops, steep ravines and a secluded setting add to the area's charm. Located in the center of Cattaraugus County, this area is close to Ellicottville. There are a number of seasonal roads that provide access to the area, such as Mutton Hollow and Hungry Hollow roads."

Ninemile Creek State Forest spans 3,000 acres in southeastern Cattaraugus County accessible only via North Ninemile Road.

"This area is only about three miles from Pennsylvania and offers excellent opportunities for hunters," Spierto said.

Check DeLorme's Map 41 for details about McCarty, Rock City or Ninemile Creek.

Hanging Bog Wildlife Management Area, four miles north of Cuba in Allegany County, spans 4,578 acres. For access, take Exit 28 off the Route 17 expressway, and then follow Route 305 north to the New Hudson Road intersection and continue on New Hudson Road north.

Check DeLorme's Map 42 for details.

"There are a number of access roads and truck trails t

hat crisscross the area," Spierto said. "Many of these roads are gated, so prepare to walk a bit to get to the best sites for bears. Much of the WMA consists of grassland and less mature forest stands, but don't be discouraged. There have been bears seen frequently in this area for the past several years."

Coyle Hill State Forest, north of state Route 17 in central Allegany County, covers some 2,300 acres near the towns of Belfast and Friendship. Logging roads in this WMA, which have active timber harvesting underway, provide additional access to the interior of the WMA.

"This area offers some of the best bear hunting opportunities in the county," Spierto said. "Hunters should focus their attention on stands of mast-bearing trees."

Campers are allowed to set up at log landings that have been graveled for vehicle access. Call (585) 268-5392 for more camping information.

Check DeLorme's Map 42 for details.

THE ADIRONDACKS

The Adirondacks range in northern New York State has long been the top-producing area for big bruins. Harvest numbers had dipped below the long-term average for three or four years but came back last fall when hunters took 582 black bears.

Steve Heerkens, the DEC's Region 6 wildlife biologist in charge of the western Adirondacks, said hunters could determine a lot about bear distribution by checking on nuisance calls in any given region.

Weather and food availability can also influence hunter success, but hunter harvest numbers also increase during years when nuisance calls are up in an area.

Heerkens advised hunters to focus on public lands near communities that have higher nuisance calls.

"If hunters are going to go into the big woods, they are going to have to do their scouting," Heerkens said. "They will need to use good woodsmanship -- and have a little bit of luck. Don't be afraid to get into the bush a little bit."

With no baiting allowed, it is important to locate natural food sources. That may be tricky this fall, Heerkens said, noting that if the beechnuts stay with their traditional every-other-year cycle, this may not be a good year.

It's a tough call because last year's mast crop was somewhat lackluster.

"It was not as good as 2006," he said. "Beechnuts were like marbles all over the woods. Then, in 2007, there wasn't a beechnut to be found."

To locate communities with high bear harvest numbers, check the 2008 report on the DEC's Web site at www.dec.ny.gov.

"Certainly, the Old Forge area will be pretty good," Heerkens said. "Any of the forests around Old Forge are going to have bear activity. Up in St. Lawrence County, the Star Lake, Cranberry Lake corridor is also good for bears. The Speculator Lake area has good access, as does the Indian Lake area and Long Lake. All of that area has good numbers of black bears."

Heerkens said high concentrations of black bears are taken each year out of northern Oneida County where the land transitions from woods to the last vestiges of agriculture. Private and public lands are a patchwork here, so hunters must be aware of the boundaries, he said.

French Creek Wildlife Management Area offers bear hunters 2,300 acres of good bear hunting southwest of the Jefferson County town of Clayton. Oak and hickory trees here provide natural mast for hungry bruins.

Access may be had about four miles from the village on French Creek Road off Crystal Springs Road. Deferno, House and Grant roads provide access to the southern end. French Creek and Bevins roads cross the southern section. A small parking area is available at the bridge on Bevins Road.

Check DeLorme's Map 91 for more information.

The 50,000-acre Moose River area is within the Adirondack Park. Access may be had from the town of Inlet in Hamilton County. To reach the eastern gate, take Limekiln Road off Route 28 and drive about two miles. For the western gate, take Cedar River Flow Road east of Indian Lake off Route 28.

For details, check DeLorme's Map 86.

For more Inlet hunting information, visit www.inletny.com.

The Tug Hill Wildlife Management Area covers 5,114 acres southwest of Lowville. Most of the habitat here is upland hardwood forest or a mix of hardwoods, spruce and fir. Check DeLorme's Map 84 for area details.

The Lewis Preserve WMA in the Clinton County town of Altona offers hunters 1,356 acres of abandoned farm fields and second growth forest. A hiking trail runs the length of the WMA, joining parking lots on Terrien and Jerusalem roads and providing easy access.

Wickham Marsh WMA spans 862 acres outside of Keeseville. The habitat here is diverse, including marshlands to northern hardwood forest.

The DEC employs a number of management tools here, all with improved wildlife habitat in mind. Thinning of oak trees has resulted in increased production of acorns to provide fall forage for black bears. A series of foot trails provide relatively easy access to the interior.

Access is off county Route 17 (the Back Road) in the Essex County town of Chesterfield.

For more information about the Lewis or Wickham WMAs, check DeLorme's Map 103.

CATSKILL PARK

The Catskill Park and Forest Preserve covers over 700,000 acres and usually has a busy nuisance bear season and a good fall harvest.

A good number of bears taken here tip the scales at more than 400 pounds. Last fall, hunters took 520 black bears, significantly more than the 2007 harvest of 453 animals. Better yet, according to Larry Bifaro, the DEC's Region 4 wildlife biologist in charge of the northern Catskills range, there are thousands of acres of forest preserve in Green County that are "right in the heart of bear country."

In fact, Bifaro said that any forested area in Delaware or Greene counties would be his best-bet bear territory.

The Windham High Peak Wild Forest Unit is an especially choice piece of hunting territory, he said. This unit spans 4,250 acres within the New York State Forest Preserve at the northern edge of Catskill Park. The forest is primarily in the town of Windham, but also has acreage in Durham, Cairo and Jewett.

Access can be had off Route 23, which passes through the northwest corner of the unit. Access can also be had via Cross Road, Old Road, county Route 56 in the Black Dome Valley, Ridge Road and Slater Road.

See DeLorme's Map 51 for area details.

Bear Spring Moun

tain is one of the best-known WMAs in the region. It covers 7,186 acres in the towns of Colchester and Walton. Access is from Walton by taking Route 206 south three miles to state lands. Check DeLorme's Map 49.

Great Valley WMA covers 184 acres in the towns of Catskill and Saugerties. Access is from Catskill by taking Route 9W south seven miles, and then turning right onto West Camp Road. The state lands are about one mile in.

Check DeLorme's Map 52 for details.

The Vinegar Hill WMA in the Greene County town of Lexington offers bear hunters 394 acres of upland habitat.

For access from Lexington, take state Route 42 south for 1.5 miles to the state land.

For area details, check DeLorme's Map 51.

Matt Merchant, the DEC's Region 3 wildlife biologist, had a few top picks to share as well.

The nearly 300,000-acre Catskill Forest Preserve is within Catskill Park, which spans the mountainous regions of Ulster, Greene, Delaware and Sullivan counties.

Some public camping is available. Call (518) 457-2500 for information. Access is off routes 28, 23 and 23A from Kingston and the New York State Thruway, or from Oneonta in the west.

For southern access, take state Route 17.

Check DeLorme's Map 36 for more details.

A map tracking the increase in bear distribution from 1995 to 2007 is available at www.dec.ny.gov. An updated map of New York's bear hunting seasons is available at the same site.

Maps and boundary descriptions of the DEC's wildlife management units may be viewed and downloaded at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/8302.html.

For general New York State bear- hunting information, call the DEC's Bureau of Wildlife at (518) 402-8883, or visit the Web site at www.dec. ny.gov/outdoor/hunting.html.

"Call the DEC's regional offices in late summer for a list of communities that might be having bear problems, and then plan a hunt around those areas," Merchant said. "We'd be happy to steer hunters to where we're having bear problems in hopes that they can alleviate them."

For updates on hunting conditions and nuisance bear hotspots by region, call Ed Reed in Region 5 at (518) 897-1291, Steve Heerkens in Region 6 at (315) 793-2554, Larry Bifaro in Region 4 at (607) 652-2426, Matt Merchant in Region 3 at (845) 256-3063, or Timothy Spierto in Region 9 at (716) 372-0645.

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