Last fall, Minnesota bear hunters were beneficiaries of a skimpy supply of natural foods in the woods. In other words, the bears were hungry and especially susceptible to the Gummi Bears and taco chips and sweet syrups that hunters used for bait.
The result: Hunters killed more bears than they had for several years. They shot 2,641 bears, the most since 2012.
Consequently, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has reduced the number of bear permits available to hunters from 3,850 last year to 3,350 this fall.
"We shot too many bears last year," said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear project leader in Grand Rapids. "We're trying to make up for it."
The DNR is in the process of trying to rebuild the state's bear population, and last fall was a blip in that process. But it made for a lot of happy hunters. The success rate for bear hunters in the Quota Zone, where hunters must apply for a limited number of permits, was a record 50 percent.
This fall, natural foods seem to be fairly plentiful, said Dennis Udovich of Greaney, who is president of the Minnesota Bear Guides Association. Preseason baiting began Aug. 11. The season opens Friday and continues through Oct. 15. Hunters are allowed to take one bear.
"Of every bait we've checked, only one bait wasn't hit," Udovich said. "They're cleaning it up pretty good."
Minnesota's bear population is estimated at 12,000 to 15,000, Garshelis said. Hunters in the Quota Zone had to apply for the 3,350 permits available. Outside of that zone, hunters may buy permits over the counter.
"I think the (bear) numbers are still there," Udovich said. "Our numbers are really good. I've seen three bears with four cubs."
Garshelis said the state's bear managers are hedging on the side of conservatism in allowing fewer permits this fall.