2018-09-13 / Outdoors

Bear opener Friday; at least two county hunters draw tags

Bear hunting season starts tomorrow in Leelanau County, and at least two county hunters drew tags and are expected to seek out a county-grown bruin.

“I know of two people who have tags,” said Mark Steimel, a fruit farmer and taxidermist from Leland Township.

Last year Steimel broke a decadesold drought for state-licensed bear hunters hoping to take a bear in the county. He tagged a bear that qualified for listing in the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan record book.

Steimel waited 12 years to accumulate enough points in a state lottery system to buy a bear license. One of the hunters qualifying for a permit in 2018 is Brenda Kalchik of Suttons Bay, Steimel said. She is the wife of Wayne Kalchik, who shot a black bear last season one day after Steimel connected.

According to the DNR, the Michigan’s bear population is estimated at 14,000 adults. Some 11,000 bear are thought to reside in the Upper Peninsula with the majority of the remaining animals living in northern Lower Peninsula.

“The bear population has been growing in the lower peninsula,” DNR Wildlife Contact Kevin Swanson said. “This allows for more tags and licenses.”

Bear hunting was not allowed in Leelanau from the 1970s until 2003, when the DNR included the county in the Baldwin bear-hunting unit.

Bear hunting can be productive in the deep swamps of Manistee, Wexford, Lake and Benzie counties, so few if any hunters tried to fill their tags in Leelanau until very recently.

According to the DNR, in 2015 some 2,665 hunters applied for 80 tags available in the Baldwin unit; the number of applicants increased to 2,845 in 2016. The DNR increased the number of tags available to 153 for the 2017 hunt, and 160 were awarded this year. About 7,000 tags have been given out to hunters throughout the state.

“We have a lot of supply and demand in the area,” Swanson said. “It’s a limited hunt, and we are potentially going to increase the number for the 2019 season.”

Baiting is the most common method used by bear hunters, as bear tend to cover miles-long swaths in their foraging for food. Their routines, like deer, tend to be nocturnal. But unlike deer, they are much less predictable.

Steimel said there are more black bear in Leelanau than at any time he can remember. He said bear have been spotted near baiting sites set up by hunters in the county, so he’s hopeful they’ll connect.

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