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November 9, 2009

Fact Sheet on Spring Bear Hunting

The Humane Society of the United States

What is Spring Bear Hunting?

A small number of states permit hunting bears in the spring. It is often billed as a wildlife management tool, but it is undoubtedly cruel and inevitably leads to orphaned cubs who were still nursing at that time.

Some hunters claim that bear meat (which most hunters don't eat) and hides are at their highest quality in the spring.

Which States Allow Spring Bear Hunting?

Of the 28 states that allow bear hunting, 20 states prohibit spring bear hunting. The practice is only permitted in Alaska, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

When Does Spring Bear Hunting Occur?

Spring bear hunting is usually permitted for a time between March and August, depending on the state (see table). In some portions of Alaska there is no closed season on bears.


  Spring Bear Hunting Season in 2006

Arizona   Between March 21 and August 31
Idaho   Between April 15 and June 30
Montana   Between April 15 and May 31
Oregon   Between April 1 and May 31
Utah   Between April 8 and May 31
Wyoming   Between April 15 and May 14

When Do Bears Emerge from Hibernation?

Bears emerge from hibernation in April or May, but remain in a semi-hibernation state for up to three weeks after emerging. Many remain lethargic for some time, making them easy targets for hunters.

How Old Are Bear Cubs during Spring Bear Hunting Seasons?

Black bear cubs are usually born in January or February, meaning that they are between one and eight months of age during most spring bear hunting seasons. In April or May, when bears typically leave their dens after hibernation, the cubs weigh about five pounds. They are weaned between July and September, long after most spring bear hunting has ended, and remain with their mothers through their first full winter.

Are Cubs Orphaned during Spring Bear Hunts?

Cubs do get orphaned during spring bear hunting.

Mother bears are not always with their cubs; when the sow senses danger she will often have them climb a tree to hide, and before foraging, mothers typically leave their cubs at the base of a tree. Sows leave their cubs for a few minutes to a few hours, and can roam more than three kilometers from their cubs, so restrictions on killing sows accompanied by cubs does not prevent cubs from being orphaned.

According to Lynn Rogers, Ph.D., a hunter and retired research biologist for the U.S. Forest Service, "where there is no bear hunting in spring, there are few orphans."

In Ontario, where bear hunting in the spring was recently prohibited, mothers are killed and the Ministry of Natural Resources estimated that 274 cubs were orphaned "as a direct result of the hunt" in a recent season.

Dr. Rogers says that it is "sociologically unacceptable to hunt game animals in the spring when they are emerging from hibernation and their cubs are dependant."

Will Bear Cubs Survive if Their Mother Is Killed by a Hunter?

Cubs are unable to care for themselves and cannot outrun predators such as wolves or other bears. According to Dr. Rogers "cubs orphaned in the spring cannot survive without human help." He says that orphans can only survive between a few hours and 30 days, depending on the date, their development, weather and food availability, but that they will ultimately die.

Bears orphaned in April have little nutritional reserve and can die overnight, something he has observed.

Dr. George Kolenosky, an Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources biologist, studied seven cubs who had been orphaned in May and June, all of whom starved to death over the next 11 to 30 days.

Dr. Rogers says that "when a mother is killed in the spring, her cubs begin a slow death. At first, the cubs wait quietly for her in the safety of a tree. As the pain of hunger grows in their bellies, they begin to squall for her. Eventually, they are killed by a predator or die slowly of starvation."

How Many Bears Are Killed in Spring Bear Hunts?

Judging from the most recent available data, more than 1,800 bears are killed each year in the spring.


Year Bears Killed
Arizona 2006 7
Idaho 2006 1,196
Montana 2002 103
Oregon 2006 307
Utah 2005 17
Washington 2006 26
Wyoming 2006 180

An unknown number of the more than 2,800 bears killed in Alaska in 2005-06 were killed in the spring.

Can Hunters Distinguish Lactating Females from Other Bears?

Data from Colorado indicate that even though it was illegal to kill nursing females and hunters may claim they can tell which bears are nursing cubs, approximately the same number of lactating females were killed as non-lactating females, primarily because most bears have not yet shed their long winter coats at the time of the hunt. Colorado voters since banned spring bear hunting by ballot initiative in 1992.

Does Spring Bear Hunting Increase Bear-Human Conflicts?

Orphaning cubs, which spring bear hunting is known to do, can increase conflicts between bears and humans. According to Dr. Rogers, without their mothers' milk and their mothers' knowledge of natural feeding areas, many orphaned cubs concentrated their activities around human residences, supplementing their diets with garbage. Mothers also teach their cubs where to feed, including distant areas only visited when food is scare. Knowledge of these sources may allow bears to find food without becoming "nuisance" animals during times of food scarcity.

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