Spring hunts of black bears can kill mother bears, leaving orphaned cubs to fend for themselves. Some cubs are only a few months old and still nursing or are yearlings who are still dependent for another few months. Most orphaned cubs suffer from starvation, predation or exposure.
Some state wildlife managers falsely assert that spring hunting spares mothers with cubs because nursing mothers are the last bears to emerge from the den. However, Tom Beck, a retired bear researcher for the Colorado Division of Wildlife—along with a cohort of five other Western states wildlife managers—says that males emerge from dens a mere two to three weeks earlier than females, meaning females with cubs go unprotected.
Spring bear hunts orphan cubs
Black bear cubs, usually born between December and February, emerge from hibernation with their mothers in April and May. Mother bears care for and protect their cubs until they are 16 to 17 months old; the family breaks up typically between May and July of the cubs’ second year.
Wildlife managers say there is no way to prevent the killing of nursing females during a spring hunt. Even when states prohibit the take of nursing females, hunters kill them unintentionally: Females forage at great distances from their cubs, and if pursued by hounds, a mother will leave her cubs in a tree. Additionally, females do not bring their cubs to bait sites.
Hunters have difficulties determining the sex of bears even when they use bait or hounds, are attempting to avoid shooting females and are in close proximity. Researchers themselves have difficulties determining sex, even at short distances.
Spring bear hunts do not reduce conflicts with nuisance bears
While some wildlife managers believe that spring bear hunting is necessary to reduce the bear population and thus avoid conflicts, hunters, trappers and wildlife control agents often remove the wrong bears—they kill the individuals not involved in nuisance behaviors. Bear-resistant trash cans, hazing programs and other humane methods work better to solve problems.
Bears who come into urban areas are most frequently adult females with cubs or subadults who purposely do so to avoid aggression by other adult bears, usually males; association with people is a deliberate adaptive strategy to keep their cubs alive.