Bears out?

Mar 12, 2015

The poor winter may mean bears are waking up earlier but it could also make hunting them this spring more difficult.

Bears in grass at Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Credit R. Wood, NPS

Have the bears come out yet? Some say they have spotted a few already. That may be a little earlier than usual, probably on account of the low snow and warm temperatures. The weather may have a more profound effect on area bears than cutting short their winter nap:  guides say they are likely cancelling their spring hunts. 

Tale of bears in Dillingham and upriver communities trickled into KDLG last week. We had a hard time confirming the sightings, but Fish and Game wildlife biologist Neil Barten says he wouldn’t be surprised if some bears are out now and looking for something to eat.

“You know, the thing about bears is that there is always somebody routing around almost any time of the year.”

Barten says that bears sometimes choose a poor den site, and after a while they get uncomfortable in there, and get up and move around.

“Or they went to bed way too thin and they’re hungry and they just can’t make it through the winter and they’re up and about looking for food. Or, who knows, maybe a snow machine ran right by the den and woke the thing up and it just got uncomfortable and decided to move around. And once they are up and about, of course, they’re probably looking for something to eat but their metabolism is still so slow they probably just found a hole somewhere and went back to sleep.”

Bears that come out, and stay out of hibernation early can be a little … grouchy. But unbeknownst to them, they might actually have something to be thankful for this year. Area hunting guides are having to cancel their spring business on account of the poor travel conditions. Brian Donovan is one such guide:

“As far as right now, the way the weather patterns and everything are going, I don’t know, last year was a rough deal. We ended up canceling all of our guys last year and this year is kind of looking the same deal.”

Other guides have indicated they are cancelling too. Bear hunting in Alaska is big business, costing out-of-state hunters in the neighborhood of $15,000 for the hunt. In the spring, around here, that usually involves snowmachining on long, sunny days.

Donovan typically runs five or six hunters in the spring, and admits he’s holding out hope the season might still happen.

“If it snows six feet in the next three weeks, which it ain’t looking good but it’s very possible.”

There’s a chance he might use hunt the open tundra in late May by plane, but says the bear's fur is less desirable then. And there’s the fall season. And of course there’s next winter, if there is a next winter. 

Contact Matt Martin at (907)-842-2200 or matt@kdlg.org.