Bad berry crop puts region’s black bears on the prowl

THURSDAY, SEPT. 16, 2010

Black bears are exposing themselves to hunters. (Associated Press)
Black bears are exposing themselves to hunters. (Associated Press)

What a difference a year makes for black bear hunters.

Last year, Jim Hayden, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional wildlife manager, said the huckleberry crop in the Idaho Panhandle and surrounding region was one of the best berry crops he’d ever seen.”

That wasn’t a good observation for hunters.

He explained that black bears last year would be spread out and feeding fewer hours a day in open areas.

“In good huck years, the fall bear hunting is tough,” he said.

Indeed, the 2010 huckleberry crop has been very poor in most areas – “maybe the worst in my 19 years on the Panhandle,” Hayden said.

Early reports from hunters indicate the bears are on the move, from high elevations to low valleys, and that hunting is good.

“I’ve checked three bears already this morning,” Hayden said at 9 a.m. on Monday.

Hungry bears have been prowling near developments looking for garbage and bird seed, wildlife enforcement officials say. This reporter saw two plump blackies near homes along the Pend Oreille River between Cusick and Ione before sunrise on Saturday morning.

However, Jeff Holmes of Spokane has spotted numerous bears in northeastern Washington while scouting for grouse and elk hunting since August. Two of those bears have challenged him.

But the second one won’t challenge another hunter.

On Labor Day weekend, a black bear came readily and aggressively to his fawn call at 6,000 feet elevation in Pend Oreille County.

Holmes wisely had a partner backing him up with pepper spray in hand.

But Holmes dispatched the bear with his muzzleloader at 12 yards.

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