Oregon Spring Bear Hunting Forecast (2011)

(OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE)

Last year, about 460 bears were checked in by hunters for the spring season, a harvest similar to highs in 2009 and 2007.

Spring bear success is usually dependent on weather. Warmer weather will get forage growing faster, put bears on the move earlier and open up access to high-elevation areas sooner.

So it should be a mixed bag for hunters during the early season. Green-up is slow in some areas while others experienced a mild winter.

If you are new to spring bear hunting, follow these tips:

Look for open areas where bears will be moving through or foraging, including clear-cuts, meadows and open slopes that have cleared of snow.
Earlier in the season, focus on south-facing slopes with rapid spring growth and open canyon slopes, where bears can be seen feeding on grass and digging roots.
Predator calls are recommended later in the season when elk begin calving. Use calls near open meadows in forested areas.
Find good vantage points and use optics to locate bears; early morning and late afternoon to evening are the best times to glass.
Know your target—remember it is unlawful to take cubs less than one year old or sows with cubs less than one year old.

Hunters should always be prepared for snow and limited access, especially early in the season. Visit ODFW’s online Hunting Access Map for hunting locations.

Almost all spring bear seasons are controlled and require application by Feb. 10 each year. The exception is the SW Oregon hunt, where 4,000 tags are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Hunters that apply for a controlled spring bear hunt may not purchase a SW Oregon tag until after the draw. SW Oregon tags sold out on Feb. 14 this year, before draw results were available.

Northwest Region Hunts

Scappoose-Saddle Mountain units (Hunt 710A, season April 1-May 31)

Damage information indicates that bears are well-distributed throughout Saddle Mt Unit and areas are greening up. ODFW staff had not received any reports of bear damage or sightings in the Scappoose Unit prior to the opening day of the spring season. Bear densities are slowly improving in the Scappoose Unit but remain low compared to other big game units in the Coast Range. To find bears, hunters need to concentrate their scouting and hunting efforts near early season food sources like skunk cabbage, typically found along riparian zones and south and southeast facing slopes. Bear activity should improve towards the middle of the season.

Locations: In the Saddle Mtn Unit, road access is available to most lands in the Clatsop State Forest. Non-motorized access is available to many private industrial forestlands. Bears are very wary of vehicle noise and tend to move away from well-traveled roads so quietly moving hunters on foot or bike may have the advantage. Expect Hampton Affiliates land in Clatsop County to be closed to entry.

Hunters in the Scappoose Unit will find limited public lands. Check each landowner’s access policy before entering private lands, including on industrial timberland.

Wilson-Trask units (Hunt 712A, season April 1-May 31)

2010: 9 bears harvested, 3.93% success rate
Green-up looks to be a little slower this year, with plenty of snow hanging on in the higher elevations of the Coast Range. Plant life springs back more quickly closer to the coast, so expect more bear activity further west during the early part of the season. With current weather conditions, hunters should concentrate in river and creek bottoms and south-facing grassy slopes with new plant growth.

CARL LLEWALLEN PACKS OUT THE BLACK BEAR THAT FRIEND RON GARDNER SHOT IN THE SIUSLAW UNIT RECENTLY. (RUGER PHOTO CONTEST)

Locations: State and federal lands in these units include the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests and Siuslaw National Forest. Some industrial forest landowners allow spring bear hunting as well, usually on a walk-in or mountain bike-in basis. Private forest and agriculture lands dominate the eastern side of the Trask Unit; access is by permission only.

N. Cascades (Hunt 716A, season April 1 – May 31)

2010: 18 bears harvested, 8.33% success rate
Usually, spring bear hunting in the Cascades gets better towards the end of the season. That will happen again this year as current snow levels and weather patterns are typical. Hunters with limited time to spend in the field should concentrate their efforts in the last three weeks of the season. If you want to get out early, start along riparian corridors at lower elevations where some of the early grasses and skunk cabbage are growing. Watch weather forecasts to help predict snowmelt; warmer weather will be key for vegetation growth and increased bear activity. Snow in higher elevations will restrict access.

Locations: Remember the Marion and Linn County portions outside of the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests are not included within the hunt boundary and are closed. The McKenzie Unit is open only on the Willamette National Forest. The Clackamas and Collawash River drainages in the Mt. Hood National Forest have a high concentration of open south facing slopes and some good areas for glassing. Hillsides burned during last year’s forest fire in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness Area should have an abundance of new plant growth once the snow pack melts. Hunters can also find good concentrations of bears in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness Area.

Alsea-Stott Mt. (Hunt 717A, season April 1 – May 31)

2010: 14 bears harvested, 8.86% success rate
Active bears began to be reported in early March, and nuisance bear reports began the week of March 21. February and March weather has been very wet and colder than normal, snow was still present at higher elevations near the end of March. Despite the cold rainy weather, vegetation is growing especially on south slopes at lower elevations. Hunters should look for bears at lower elevations along streams or open areas with a south or southeast aspect.

Location: Access is fair on mainline forest roads but expect some roads to be impassible in April due to landslides and fallen trees. Siuslaw National Forest lands on the central coast south of Waldport have well-maintained roads.

Southwest Region Hunts

SW Oregon (Season April 1 – May 31)

Tags for this hunt are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis and sold out on Feb. 14, 2011 this year.

The bear hunting season is expected to start slow and improve as the snow melts. Bear numbers in the entire region have been increasing for several years. In general, bear density is greatest closer to the coast. Good spots to check are skid roads and side roads that are untraveled with lots of grassy margins and bear sign.

Locations: Hunters have access to plenty of public land including national forestland (Siuslaw, Rogue-Siskiyou, and Umpqua), BLM land and state-managed property like Elliot State Forest. Hunters should do their homework and call private timberland companies as some offer access. Local landowners include Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek, Menasha/Campbell Group, Roseburg Forest Products, and Lone Rock Timber Co. Hunters can access public land and some private timberland through the Jackson Cooperative Travel Management Area (JACTMA). JACTMA restricts use of certain roads through April 30; for a map contact an ODFW office. Remember lands within one mile of the Rogue River between Grave and Lobster creeks are closed.

Northeast Region

W. Blue Mountains (Hunt 749A, season April 1 – May 31)

2010: 30 bears harvested, 16.57% success rate
This year’s long winter combined with heavy snow pack will have the bears out as much as 10-20 days later than usual (so in late April or early May). Since a large percentage of the public road system is at higher elevation, lingering snow drifts may limit access until late May in some areas. Bear density is highest in the northern portion (north of Interstate 84) and lower as one goes south and west in the hunt area. Early season bear activity is concentrated along the lower elevation fringes of national forestland. Bears follow the green-up elevation band; concentrate on timbered slopes with small openings with lush green moss, sedge, or grassy areas. If the spring is wet, bears will be out on open slopes foraging on wild onions and sedges.

Starkey (Hunt 752A, season April 15 – May 31)

2010: 2 bears harvested, 1.35% success rate
Bear numbers are strong in the Starkey Unit. Hunters should focus efforts on mid-elevation south aspects for best results. Walking in on closed roads is a great way to access bear habitat within this hunt area. The Dry Beaver Ladd Canyon road closure area offers diverse habitat and is off limits to motorized travel. Other areas that have good bear densities are Spring Creek and USFS property around Fly Valley. Be sure to check access and road conditions before hunting.

Wallowa District Hunts (Season April 15- May 31)

Access is expected to be limited until early May in most units, with mid- to high- elevation roads blocked by snow. There has been little bear activity so hunters are safe in waiting until later in the season. Bear numbers should be about the same as last year. Bear activity generally improves by the first week of May.

Remember the Noregaard, Whiskey Creek and Shamrock Travel Management Areas will be in effect in the Sled Springs Unit through May 31; maps are available at entrance points or at ODFW’s Enterprise office. The road to the Freezeout trailhead in the Snake River unit is closed to vehicles and horses. Contact the Wallowa Whitman National Forest for further information.

756 Wenaha Unit: 14 bears, 8.75% success rate
756T (youth hunt): 4 bears, 12.5% success rate

757A Sled Springs and Chesnimnus Units: 42 bears, 19.18% success rate
757T (youth hunt): 8 bears, 14.81% success rate

Hunt 759A Snake River Unit: 24 bears, 8.86% success rate

Hunt 760A Minam and Imnaha Units: 18 bears and 11.92% success rate

Pine Creek-Keating-Catherine Creek (Hunt 762A)

2010: 44 bears harvested, 14.33% success rate
Baker County has received no damage complaints or sightings yet but boars should start coming out soon. The district experienced a harsh winter with heavy snowfall early in the year so hunters should expect more snow than last year. But due to a lack of significant snow lately and recent rain, conditions are open at low and mid elevations. Higher elevations near Pine Creek and McGraw Overlook still have deep snow. In the Keating Unit, hunters will find snow-free areas in some of the lowest portions of the national forest. Many of the mid- and high-elevation roads in all units are still impassible. Contact local offices of USFS or ODFW for a report on conditions before heading out.

The Catherine Creek Unit will produce good bear numbers this year although early season access will be limited by snow. Much of the unit’s lower elevations are on privately-owned land. The higher elevations of the Catherine Creek Unit are mostly within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and contain excellent bear habitat.

Lookout Mt. Unit (764)

Moderate snow at high elevations will limit access in the early season. Low-to mid-elevation areas of the Lookout Mtn Unit are snow free. Try south-facing slopes near the treeline above Brownlee Reservoir. Private lands limit access; make sure you obtain landowner permission before hunting private land.

South Blue Mtns (Hunt 746A, season April 15-May 31)

The hunt area experienced a light winter. Snow levels are high and should not have much effect on hunter access. Bear populations are stable or increasing but this hunt is still challenging due to the heavy forested terrain which makes it difficult to spot bears. Observations from an ongoing statewide bear study suggest that the northwest section of the Murderers Creek, Beulah, and Northside units have higher bear densities. Hunters often use this tag as an opportunity to scout new hunting areas for next fall’s deer and elk seasons, turkey hunt, or collect shed antlers. Remember it is legal to take naturally shed antlers, but not skulls with antlers attached.

High Desert Region

South Central (Hunt 731A, season April 15 – May 31)

2010: 8 bears harvested, a 10.9% success rate
Bear populations are stable to slightly increasing but low compared to other areas of the state. The highest bear densities are in the Cascade Mountains with lower densities in the drier, semi-desert portions of the hunt area. Areas for hunters to check include the Keno Unit, western portion of the Sprague Unit, and the Gearhart Mountain area in the Interstate Unit. Focus on the unburned fringes around 2002 fires (Grizzly Fire in the Interstate Unit and the Toolbox/Winter Fire in the Silver Lake Unit) and in riparian areas. In the northern portion of Fort Rock unit bear populations are low and hunters should expect low success. Bear activity is most common west of Highway 97 in the vicinity of riparian vegetation.

Locations: Public access is good within the Fremont-Winema and Deschutes National Forests and on open private timberland. Access for the opener will be poor due to snow drifts on north slopes and muddy road conditions at lower elevations. Access should improve by later in the season. Please respect private property and avoid driving on soft or muddy roads.

White River (Hunt 741, season April 15- May 31)

2010: 2 bears harvested, 8.70% success rate
Bear densities are good in the White River, especially within forested areas. Like other spring hunts, effort should be focused within clearcuts and meadows early and late in the day. The edges of the major drainages, such as the White River, Badger and Tygh Creeks, should be good places to find bears in the eastern edge of the unit.

Locations: The majority of bear habitat is found on public lands so access is good. The western edge of the unit has a good amount of county and private timberlands. Be sure to get permission if hunting on private lands.

Hood Unit (Hunt 742, season April 15-May 31)

2010: 3 bears harvested, 6.98% success rate
Winter snowpack has been below average this year, allowing bears to come out of hibernation early and in good shape. Look for open south-facing slopes or decommissioned forest roads with good grasses and forbs. Later in the season, when beehives are out in orchards for pollination, hunt forestland near the beehives or seek permission to hunt on private orchard ground that borders the timber.

Locations: Both public lands (Mt. Hood National Forest and Hood River County land) and some private industrial forestland are open to hunting; check with private landowners for access rules and permission.

Bear Plan to be reworked

Oregon’s Black Bear Management Plan dates back to the 1990s. ODFW is currently updating the plan to reflect changes in the management and science of bears.

“This will be an extensive public process,” said Tim Hiller, ODFW carnivore-furbearer coordinator. “We want to hear from hunters and the rest of the public about their thoughts and concerns about bears.”

ODFW will announce public meetings and other opportunity for public input on the new Bear Plan later this year.

Mandatory check-in of bears:

For the last three years, successful bear hunters have been required to check-in their bear’s skull at an ODFW office within 10 days of the harvest so biologists can collect a tooth and other biological information.

Bear skulls must be unfrozen when presented for check-in; it is very difficult to collect data (such as tooth measurements) from a frozen skull. ODFW also recommends hunters prop the bear’s mouth open with a stick after it is harvested, again to make data collection a quick and easy process.

This data collection is a critical part of the method ODFW uses to monitor Oregon’s bear population. See page 34 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations for more information.

Mandatory reporting

Separate from the check-in requirement, all hunters who purchased a spring bear tag are required to report their hunt results online or by phone (1-866-947-6339). Reporting is required even for those that did not go hunting or were unsuccessful. ODFW uses this information to monitor bear populations and determine hunting seasons.

As of March 14, 2011, 57 percent of 2010 SW Oregon spring bear tag holders and 77 percent of controlled spring bear tag holders had reported last year’s hunt results. This is better than the overall average of 40 percent for all big game and turkey tags.

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