Bear hunting season opens across Michigan

Annual hunt part of state’s bear management program

The Gladwin hunting season runs from Sept. 12 through Sept. 20, and the entire archery-only season lasts from Oct. 8-14 and is for hunting with bait or other methods that do not include dogs. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

The Gladwin hunting season runs from Sept. 12 through Sept. 20, and the entire archery-only season lasts from Oct. 8-14 and is for hunting with bait or other methods that do not include dogs. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

GLADWIN — Among the elusive species being hunted this season, one of the most challenging targets is the bear. With the bear hunting licenses dispersed and the season underway, hunters are on the lookout for black bears.

This season, the Gladwin area, which includes Mecosta and Osceola counties, saw a slight decline in the number of applications for bear hunting licenses since the 2019 season. The hunting season runs Sept. 12-20, and the archery-only season lasts from Oct. 8-14 and is specifically for hunting with bait or other methods that do not include dogs.

Gladwin has a license quota of 120 residential and six non-residential licenses for 2021. In 2019 the area saw 1,333 applicants and 1,046 in 2020. The bear hunting licenses are chosen based on a drawing system, and individuals as young as 9 years old can apply for a drawing. For any given license distributed, one bear can be harvested.

The number of bear hunting licenses available in the state in 2019 was reduced by 60 licenses from 2018. Across the state, 90% of hunters buying a license in 2019 were men and the average age of the license buyers was 50 years. About 4% of the license buyers were younger than 17 years old. The average number of days required to harvest a bear statewide was 19.1 days in 2019.

The Mentored Youth Hunting Program allows youth hunters 9 years of age and younger to hunt with a mentor who is at least 21 years of age, has hunting experience, and possesses a valid Michigan license to hunt other than an apprentice license.

Bears have been part of the Great Lakes fauna likely since the melting of the last glacier is native to Michigan. Bears existed in most of the forested habitats in the Great Lakes region prior to European Settlement.

The Michigan Department of Natural resources is involved in numerous efforts to maintain and manage bear populations. The organization has several plans such as the Statewide Forest plan, Eco-regional Resource Plan, the Wildlife Action Plan, and the Wildlife Division Habitat Plan, which take into consideration the habitat needs of Michigan’s black bear.

According to the DNR, Michigan has nearly 19 million acres of forest land, and about 65% is privately owned. Around 35,000 square miles of suitable bear habitat is located in the Upper Peninsula (UP) and Northern Lower Peninsula.

The DNR’s Recommendations for Bear Management Report lists numerous efforts the department is focusing on, and discusses some trends among bear populations and hunting in the state.

“We believe the DNR should give high priority to planning and implementing an effective information and education communication strategy regarding bears,” the report reads. “We also recognize that bears are not evenly distributed across the landscape and hunting effort occurs mostly where hunters perceive the population to be at the highest density.”

According to state data, about 15,000 to 19,000 black bears, including cubs, roam the hardwood and conifer forests of northern Michigan. About 90% of the bears live in the upper peninsula, while the remaining 10% are mainly found in the northern Lower Peninsula. In Michigan, bears typically enter their den by December and come out in late March or April.

A bear’s home range is the area that provides sufficient food and covers for the animal to survive. Black bears are solitary animals, but family groups such as a sow and her cubs may be observed. Male black bears live in an area about 100 square miles in size, while females live in smaller areas of 10-20 square miles.

The Michigan bear hunting season functions under a quota system that was established to limit the number of bear hunters and to better influence the distribution and density of hunters in the different Bear Management Units. Under the quota system, the number of hunters participating in each unit and hunt period is limited by the number of licenses issued to achieve the desired bear harvest.

The eastern Upper Peninsula, western Upper Peninsula, and northern Lower Peninsula are presently divided into ten zones called Bear Management Units. BMUs help distribute hunters and the bear harvest throughout the entire ecological unit, rather than allowing hunters to target animals only in optimal habitats.

By distributing hunters throughout the ecological region, BMUs also help to assure that biological information obtained from harvested bears is representative of the entire region’s population. Hunting of bears in the state is heavily monitored and the price for killing a bear without a proper license can carry jail time and hefty fines.

The DNR’s work to monitor the hunting of bears is in conjunction with their efforts to maintain bears as well as other ecological areas for the future.

“Our vision for successful bear management in Michigan is to cooperatively manage bear populations at biologically and socially acceptable levels using sound science and education so current and future generations can continue to value Michigan’s bears,” the DNR’s website statement reads. “The DNR recognizes that the citizens of Michigan have an interest and stake in the future management of bears and should have an opportunity for their points of view to be represented.”

There have been some sizable bears that have been recorded during past hunting seasons in Michigan. According to MLive, one of those was an 8-year-old male bear that was the fifth largest bear ever killed in Michigan and 211th largest ever taken in North America during a hunt in Manistee County in September 2017 by Caledonia resident Jeff Kresnak.

The Department of Natural Resources estimated the animal’s weight to be between 500-600 pounds, but bears are scored by their skull size. This particular animal had a skull of 21 and 15/16ths.

Whether or not this years’ hunters will see that kind of good luck this bear season remains to be seen, but it is sure to be an exciting and challenging hunt for one of Michigan’s most elusive natives.

For more information on the DNR and hunting season regulations and information, visit their website at