Black bear exist throughout much of northern and central Minnesota. Secretive and wary, wildlife managers estimate more than 10,000 bear inhabit the state’s forests.
Bear hunting is so popular that hunter numbers are intentionally restricted in prime bear range.
The black bear is the only bear species in Minnesota. They live in forests, swamps and other areas with dense cover but will wander into clearings to feed. Found mainly in the northern third of Minnesota, bears range as far south as the interface between Minnesota's forest and agricultural zones, where they utilize corn and other crops for subsistence.
- When to hunt
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- Where to hunt
You can hunt bear on many types of public land including state Wildlife Management Areas and county, state and national forests. You can hunt private land, too, if you have permission from the landowner or if it is industrial forested land where permission is not necessary unless posted closed to hunting.
You must enter a lottery to hunt bear in most of Minnesota so you must know where you will be hunting before applying for a permit. You can view the bear permit areas on the Recreation Compass.
In the southern part of the bear range, a no-quota area does not require that hunters enter the lottery. But that area is comprised of mostly private land so hunters should ensure they have a place to hunt prior to purchasing a no-quota bear permit.
- How to hunt
Those who have never hunted bear may want to attend a Department of Natural Resources bear hunting clinic. A three-hour clinic is an excellent way to learn about bear biology, behavior and hunting techniques. Use the drop-down selection box at the top of the page to search the DNR safety class listing.
Another option is to obtain a free USB flash drive from the Minnesota DNR that contains a variety of helpful bear hunting information. It is available by calling 800-366-8917.
Bear hunting in Minnesota is largely about attracting bear to you by creating and maintaining bait stations, which are man-made sites that contain sweet and aromatic offerings such as grain, candy, cereal, pastries, chocolate, maple syrup, kibbled dog food, cooking grease, trail mix and the like. You can begin baiting bears in mid-August on the Friday nearest Aug. 14.
Without a bait station, it is unlikely that you would see a bear due to their excellent scenting and hearing abilities. But you must follow all bait station regulations.
Bait stations are often stacks of heavy timber that bears must paw away to reach food that has been placed beneath. Typically, the stations are built in such a way that a hunter in an elevated stand can make a broadside shot while the bear Is coming, going or feeding.
Creating an effective bait station prior to the hunting season is important because in years of normal wild food abundance about 70 percent of the bear harvest occurs in the first week of hunting and about 80 percent of the harvest has occurs by the end of the second week.
What follows is general hunting advice:
- Bears prefer dense cover so place your hunting stand in a forest opening near dense cover that is close to water and where natural autumn foods (acorns, hazelnuts, etc.) are plentiful. If possible, it is also smart to locate a stand near soybean and corn crops as bear feed on these grains and this increases the chances they may find your bait.
- Situate your elevated stand in way that your silhouette can’t be seen. Bears don’t have great eyesight but are incredibly wary. Also, it’s best to erect your stand so that you will be downwind of the bears visiting your bait station.
- Review aerial photos of where you intend to hunt to pinpoint potential bear travel corridors.
- Learn the anatomy of bear so that you can make a clean and ethical shot. Bears don’t leave much of a blood trail because of their abundance of fat.
- What's important to know
Bear hunting does not require a lot of specialized equipment but does involve monitoring and maintaining bait stations. Beyond an elevated hunting stand the following items are good things to have
- A head net or some type of bug repellant that bears don’t detect or are accustomed to. Bear hunting can be quite buggy and it is hard to sit still when swarms of insects want your skin.
- A fluffy coat that can be stuffed in a backpack. Warm afternoons often give way to cool and cold evenings in autumn.
- A knife, rope, gloves and other equipment for field-dressing.
- Maps, compass, flashing and matches.
- Basic biology
- Black bear follow their noses, and use their mental maps of the landscape to locate food sources, which are in a constant state of flux, from season to season and year to year
- Black bears (some but less than 10 percent brown) have a large head, small eyes, erect ears, stout legs, and a very short tail. Bears have an exceptionally keen sense of smell (better than a dog).
- Bears grow five to six-feet plus long.
- Adults vary in weight from 150 (small female) to more than 500 (large male) pounds.
- Bears make huffing, snorting, and jaw-popping sounds when nervous or distressed, trying to repel intruder. Cubs make humming sounds when nursing (an indication of being satisfied), and squealing when frightened or uncomfortable.
- Black bears mate during May-July. The fertilized egg implants in November and the cubs are usually born in January, while the mother is denning. Newborn cubs do not hibernate, but the mother provides all their nourishment while she is hibernating. In Minnesota litters are most often of three cubs (average 2.6), which by mid-March weigh five or six pounds. They leave the den usually in early April and remain with the mother for 17 months, hibernating with her when they are 1 year old.
- Bears eat green vegetation in spring, turning to ants and ant pupae in June, a variety of berries in summer, and nuts (primarily acorns and hazelnuts) in autumn.
- Bear predators include other bears, potentially wolves (while bears are hibernating), and people, who hunt bears for their meat and fur.
- Bears often roam long distances in the fall, looking for food-rich areas (especially acorns) where they can fatten for winter. Although they all don’t move in the same direction, travel together, or even go on such excursions every year, they typically return to their summer home range to den, so this “fall shuffle”, as it is commonly called, is actually a true seasonal migration.
- Bears hibernate in their dens during winter, for as long as six or seven months, living off their stored body fat.
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