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DNR: Minnesota bear harvest down a bit, and that's good

Lawrence Taylor of Austin, Texas, took this black bear in the Floodwood areas on opening day of Minnesota's bear season, Sept. 1. He is a friend of Rob Parrott of Saginaw and has hunted with Parrott for the past 14 years. Rob Parrott photo1 / 2
Derek Goodridge (left) from Coon Rapids, Minn., and Justin Bailey of Keewatin, Minn., took these bears on Sept. 1, opening day of Minnesota's bear season, in the Grand Rapids area. Both of the bears weighed about 200 pounds field-dressed. Justin Bailey photo2 / 2

DULUTH — Minnesota's bear harvest is down from last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. But some bear guides and hunters are reporting plenty of success.

The state's bear season opened Sept. 1.

Rob Parrott's longtime bear-hunting friend, Lawrence Taylor, came up from Austin, Texas, to hunt again this fall. That makes 14 years. Parrott lives in Saginaw.

By evening of opening day, Sept. 1, Taylor had his bear. He was hunting in the Floodwood area. Parrott, a former bear guide and still a big-game processor, had baited for Taylor until his arrival a week before the season. Taylor took over from there.

The season, which continues through Oct. 15, is off to a good start, said Parrot.

"It's been really good," he said. "Last year I processed 10 or 12 bears the whole season. We already have 10 in. Definitely, the numbers are up."

Hunting success can vary widely from one area to another based in part on the availability of natural foods in the woods. Hazelnuts and berries were less abundant this fall in some places, Parrott said. As a result, hungry bears trying to put on weight before denning were attracted to some hunters' baits.

DNR registration figures, though, indicate that the harvest is down from last year at this point, which is what DNR biologists want to see. As of Sept. 5, the overall bear harvest stood at 1,217, said Andy Tri, research wildlife biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"That's 25 percent lower than for the same period last year," Tri said. "That's good. We're trying to rebuild the bear population, and a lower harvest than last year will help us reach that goal."

Hunters in Minnesota shot 2,641 bears last fall, more than DNR officials expected and the most since 2012. The DNR issued 3,350 bear permits in its quota zone this fall, down from 3,850 last year. The state's bear population is estimated at 12,000 to 15,000.

Most bears are taken early in the season, Tri said. Over the past five years, 63 percent of total harvest was taken in the season's first week, and 78 percent was taken in the season's first two weeks, Tri said.

Bear guides Alice and Justin Wiese of Wheezy Outdoors in Grand Rapids also had an excellent opening weekend. The Wieses had 12 hunters in camp for the opener.

"We had eight bears for 12 hunters on opening day," Alice Wiese said. "All within the first five hours. It got pretty crazy."

Another Wheezy Outdoors client got his bear the following day. Another hunter passed on a bear, and one other hunter missed one, Justin Wiese said.

"We're really satisfied with the hunt so far," he said on Wednesday, Sept. 6. "We have only one guy who hasn't seen a bear so far."

Like Parrott, he attributes the high success rate to the lack of natural foods available in the Chippewa National Forest where their clients hunt.

"There are hardly any acorns this year," he said

"And the berry season was very short," Alice added.

At Udovich Guide Service near Greaney, Dennis and Mimi Udovich's 12 hunters took 11 bears in the first five days of the season.

"Everyone left with a big smile," Dennis Udovich said.

The largest bear in the camp, taken by an Illinois hunter, had a live weight of 369 pounds, Udovich said.

"We had a lot of wind the last couple nights," Udovich said. "I thought maybe we'd get done earlier."

Bears get spooky and cautious in windy conditions and often visit baits after dark, when they're off-limits to hunters.

Udovich tracked one bear in the dark one evening, not an uncommon practice. It took some searching, but Udovich finally found the bear, which was dead.

"When we finally found it, I said, 'Oh, my God,'" he said. "It was the bear that weighed 369 pounds."

Udovich and others hauled the bear from the woods on a canvas stretcher.

"My arms were pretty well stretched out," he said.