Carl Lee of Swanton, Maryland, harvested a 539-pound bear in Garrett County — the largest bear taken in Maryland’s annual black bear hunt — on Oct. 21, 2019. (Courtesy of Maryland Department of Natural Resources.)

Black bear hunt numbers up with growing population

By: Cody Wilcox, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Starting with a chance in a lottery, black bear hunting in Maryland can be a long process. After winning a license, carefully choosing a location and days outside hunting the bear, the payout can sometimes be as simple as sinking one’s teeth into a bear-meat bologna sandwich.

During this year’s annual black bear hunt in Maryland, 1,851 hunters received the opportunity to do so and killed 145 black bears — 10 more than last year’s hunt, the Department of Natural Resources announced last week.  

Easton, Maryland, native Allan Ellis with his 170-pound female bear from 2015 in Garrett County. (Courtesy of Allan Ellis)

The black bear population has increased in Maryland over the years, expanding their territories from the western arm of the state eastward, to more centralized parts.  

“In the 20 years I’ve been here, the number has grown (in Frederick),” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Black Bear Project Leader Harry Spiker told Capital News Service. “It’s not long before Montgomery County is on the list … sooner rather than later.” 

The Maryland black bear hunting season took place from Oct. 21 to Oct. 25 in four Maryland counties, Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, and Washington.

Spiker, who also serves as the department’s game mammal section leader, estimated that there were approximately 300 adult and subadult black bears in Garrett and Allegany counties in 2004 but now says there are about 2,200 adult and subadult black bears within Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties. 

Spiker said that the core of the state’s black bear population used to reside in just Garrett and Allegany, but as the population has expanded to other territories so did the department’s estimates. 

The average weight of each bear caught in this year’s hunt was 156 pounds, but the largest bear harvested this year weighed 539 pounds and was captured in Garrett County by Carl Lee of Swanton, Maryland, according to the department.  

With the state’s bear population continuing to increase at about a 12 percent annual growth rate, the species has had to expand its territory in Maryland, according to Spiker.  

When black bears turn about 16-17 months of age, what Spiker refers to as the “teenage bears,” they break up with their families and are required to find their own territories. 

But with a growing number of the territorial mammals within the state, relocating is not always the easiest task for the bears. 

In 2014, a black bear was discovered in a tree on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The Department of Natural Resources drugged and relocated the bear approximately 20 miles northwest, to the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, Maryland, Spiker said.

Two years later, on June 1, 2016, The Baltimore Sun ran a story by The Howard County Times that had reports of Waverly Elementary School in Ellicott City, Maryland, going into lockdown due to a bear sighting. 

Capital News Service was unable to confirm this with Howard County Public Schools or the Department of Natural Resources. 

A black bear was seen a week later in a tree on the grounds of The Timber At Troy Golf Course in Elkridge, Maryland — approximately 12.1 miles from Waverly — course general manager Kevin Smith confirmed. 

Smith said that was the first bear that his staff and he had seen on the course.  

Years ago, Spiker said, bears would occasionally make an appearance in Central and Southern Maryland in the months of August and September. 

But more recently, Spiker is noticing that more bears are showing up in these areas during the months of May and June, suggesting that the black bear core populations are relocating to those areas. 

“(We) definitely will see (this) more frequently,” Spiker said. 

According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 27 of 40 U.S. states reported an increase in black bear populations in the mid-1990s. 

The department distributed 800 hunting permits this year via a lottery system, and each hunter is granted two sub permittees to assist in the hunting.

After hunters are awarded a permit, they can decide the location of their hunt in one of the four counties.

While Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties saw relatively average numbers, hunters in Frederick County managed to take eight bears, the most ever caught in the centralized county, according to Spiker.  

Spiker credits the county boost due to an escalation of hunters, rather than bears, saying that black bears are within Frederick but most hunters still try their luck in Garrett.  

Spiker estimates that the success rate for black bear hunting ranges from about 8 to 10 percent but says that there should be no concerns over the eradication of Maryland’s bear population. 

“Through regulated hunting, no wildlife of any species has ever been wiped out by hunting,” Spiker said. 

Black bear hunting was reintroduced to the state in 2004, following 51 years of its absence. 

Unlike today’s system, which allows five full hunting days, the department used to regulate the hunting based on a quota up until 2014 — in that year, it was 69 bears statewide for the entire duration of the hunt. 

Prior to the system alteration, hunters would have had to call the Department of Natural Resources to discover whether the hunt had been capped based on the number of bears that were harvested. 

But now the loosened regulations made it more convenient for hunters and the Department of Natural Resources staff to communicate and plan ahead. 

Hunters who kill and capture their one bear are required to attach a field tag, which includes the hunter’s name, date of the kill, time of the kill and the county of the kill, to the bear carcass, allowing legal transport of the animal.

The hunters have 24 hours to appear with their bear to one of three check-in stations, situated in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties, where the Department of Natural Resources will collect vital information like a tooth for age, DNA as a monitoring device to estimate the size of the population, and blood for other research projects. 

Spiker estimates that most hunters use their bears as a source of food, using the animal’s lean red meat in roasts, sausages, and even bologna.

Christy Martin, the master taxidermist at Martin’s Taxidermy & Wildlife Artistry in Boonsboro, Maryland, said that about 70 to 80 percent of her customers request a life-size mount, but she gets an occasional demand for a rug, or shoulder mounts that include just the bear’s upper body.  

Easton, Maryland, resident Allan Ellis has applied for a license every year since the hunt returned in 2004 and has been chosen four times, including in 2005, 2010, 2015 and 2019.

Ellis, who bounces around the state to various locations when black bear hunting, nested himself in Frederick County this year for the hunting season. 

Although he wasn’t one of the eight hunters that took home a bear in the county, Ellis captured an image of one of the bears with a trail camera. 

His only Maryland black bear, a 170-pound female, came four years ago during the hunt’s opening day in Garrett County.

Ellis said that he let no part of the bear go to waste, using the meat for bologna and fashioning the hide into a full-body mount.

With only a small number of participants catching a bear each year in Maryland, hunters take pride in their mounts and treat it as art. 

Martin said that she receives a few Maryland bears each year. 

But with a lot of out-of-state hunters traveling to the state, Martin suspects that they transport their bears to a more localized taxidermist. 

Spiker said that hunters traveled from Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and South Africa to participate in Maryland’s black bear hunt. 

Cost and completion time are dependant on the customer’s preferences, but Spiker said that prices typically begin at $1,500 for a full-size mount and vary depending on size and mount features. 

Spiker said that there is no limit to the number of participants in each county during the hunt but hopes that more hunters embrace Frederick County like they did this year.

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