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Hunters Bag Fewer Bears in 2013

Totals Down by 302 In Twin States

  • FILE-In this April 22, 2012 file photo, a black bear grazes in a field in Calais, Vt. Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials say the state's first split bear hunting season was a success, with hunters shooting 557 bears in the 85 days of open season. Fish and Wildlife Director Mark Scott says 10,000 hunters bought the special tag that allowed them to hunt bear between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, the first time there has been such a requirement. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)

    FILE-In this April 22, 2012 file photo, a black bear grazes in a field in Calais, Vt. Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials say the state's first split bear hunting season was a success, with hunters shooting 557 bears in the 85 days of open season. Fish and Wildlife Director Mark Scott says 10,000 hunters bought the special tag that allowed them to hunt bear between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, the first time there has been such a requirement. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)

  • FILE-In this April 22, 2012 file photo, a black bear grazes in a field in Calais, Vt. Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials say the state's first split bear hunting season was a success, with hunters shooting 557 bears in the 85 days of open season. Fish and Wildlife Director Mark Scott says 10,000 hunters bought the special tag that allowed them to hunt bear between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, the first time there has been such a requirement. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)

    FILE-In this April 22, 2012 file photo, a black bear grazes in a field in Calais, Vt. Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials say the state's first split bear hunting season was a success, with hunters shooting 557 bears in the 85 days of open season. Fish and Wildlife Director Mark Scott says 10,000 hunters bought the special tag that allowed them to hunt bear between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, the first time there has been such a requirement. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)

  • FILE-In this April 22, 2012 file photo, a black bear grazes in a field in Calais, Vt. Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials say the state's first split bear hunting season was a success, with hunters shooting 557 bears in the 85 days of open season. Fish and Wildlife Director Mark Scott says 10,000 hunters bought the special tag that allowed them to hunt bear between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, the first time there has been such a requirement. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)
  • FILE-In this April 22, 2012 file photo, a black bear grazes in a field in Calais, Vt. Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials say the state's first split bear hunting season was a success, with hunters shooting 557 bears in the 85 days of open season. Fish and Wildlife Director Mark Scott says 10,000 hunters bought the special tag that allowed them to hunt bear between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, the first time there has been such a requirement. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)

With black bears dining more often in the wild than in cornfields and other man-made eateries around the Twin States, hunters on both sides of the New Hampshire/Vermont border bagged dozens fewer trophies in 2013 than the year before.

So goes one of several conclusions that state wildlife experts reached this week, while reporting that licensed hunters harvested a combined 1,126 bear in the recently-completed season — down from 1,428 in 2012.

In New Hampshire, where the count dropped from 808 to 569, sportsmen took 10 bears in Lyme, nine in Piermont, eight each in Canaan and Haverhill, and seven in Orford. Sandwich, N.H., led all Granite State towns with 20.

“Ideally, we’re looking (for hunters) to take 600 or so a year, on average,” bear expert Andrew Timmins of New Hampshire Fish and Game said on Tuesday. “The population can’t consistently take losing 800 a season. We wouldn’t want to do what we did last year two years in a row.”

Among the 557 bears taken in Vermont (down from 620 in 2012), six each fell in Royalton and Plymouth, while hunters took four apiece in Newbury and Killington, and three each in Sharon, Weathersfield, Chelsea, Topsham and Corinth. Leading the way statewide were Montgomery and Sutton with 11 each.

“The 2013 harvest is close to our average annual total of 547 bears over the past 10 years,” biologist Forrest Hammond of Vermont Fish and Wildlife said. “Participation in the early bear season (Sept. 1 to Nov. 15) was higher than anticipated, an indication that Vermonters are becoming increasingly interested in hunting this big-game animal.”

The year-to-year comparison that stands out for Hammond? Hunters harvested 21 bears in the riverside towns between Rockingham, Vt., and Windsor — all with substantial expanses of corn — in 2012 and just two in 2013.

“2012 was a poor year for natural food, like beech nuts and acorns, that they prefer,” Hammond said. “They moved to a lot of lowland towns, so when they went into the cornfields, farmers would call hunters to clear them out. This year, there were a lot of natural foods, so they didn’t take as many risks.”

Timmins attributes the strong harvest in Lyme, Piermont, Canaan and Orford to the large swaths of uplands with a better mix of trees — particularly beech and oak — than parts of the White Mountains that grew back fewer nut-producing species after the clear-cutting by logging companies in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“Your side of the state is some of the best habitat in the state for bear,” Timmins said. He added that the biggest male bear shot in 2013, weighing 437 pounds, fell in Bethlehem, while the biggest female, weighing 305, was shot in Warren.

“We had a couple who were more than 500 pounds,” Timmins said, “but you could tell they were eating out of landfills and the like.”

Hammond said that four bears harvested in Vermont — two in Lunenberg, one each in Brownington and Lowell — tipped the scales at 400 or more pounds, with two exceeding 460. He concurred with Timmins about distinguishing cruiserweights shot in the wild from those dining closer to town.

“We usually figure that the largest bears probably gained weight through eating garbage or corn,” Hammond said. “They can attain large weights, but it comes at an increased risk of being shot or hit by cars.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304