Hunters in New York took fewer bears than normal last year, but the biggest bear killed in 2016 was more than 30 pounds heavier than the previous year's largest.
While fewer bears were taken in the northern zone in 2016, the total number was about on par with the historical average. Hunters killed 514 bears in the northern part of the state, with another 1,025 taken in the southern zone. The dividing line between the northern and southern zones roughly follows county and state roads, and passes through cities such as Rome and Whitehall on Lake Champlain from Lake Ontario.
"New York has excellent bear habitat and vast, accessible public lands that offer exciting opportunities for bear hunting," state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a press release. "Black bears are thriving in New York currently, and are a great resource for both out-of-state and local hunters."
A black bear cub sits on the limb of a white pine tree.
News file photo
Historically, hunters in the northern zone, which includes Essex and Franklin counties take an average of 515 bears each hunting season. However, that number has decreased recently as the five-year average from 2011 through 2015 sits at just 472 bears each year.
Almost 10 percent of all bears taken last year were shot on the opening day of hunting season in the southern zone. That trend continued in the northern zone where 30 males and 28 females were killed on opening day of the early hunting season in September.
The biggest bear taken statewide last year was shot in the town of Brandon in Franklin County and clocked in at a whopping 555 pounds dressed weight. Dressed weight means that the animal's internal organs and other undesirable parts of the bear had been removed. A 425-pound bear was also taken in Herkimer County last year, while the rest of the top-10 heaviest bears were taken outside the Adirondacks.
It should be noted that hunters are not required to report dressed weight, and the DEC says that weights for just 22 percent of all bears taken in 2016 were submitted.
Hunters killed 25 tagged bears during the hunting season, including several that had ventured into New York from neighboring states.
"These included six bears originally tagged in Pennsylvania, five from New Jersey, and one from Vermont," the press release says. "The remainder were originally tagged in New York for a variety of reasons including research, nuisance response, relocated urban bears, or released rehabilitated bears."
Bear population densities tend to be higher in the southern parts of the state, with most of the Adirondacks averaging between 2.6 and five bears taken in 100 square miles. The High Peaks area averages less than 2.5 bears taken in the same amount of land. In contrast, the town of Minisink in Orange County produced one bear for every 1.9 square miles.
To determine the age of bears taken during the hunting season, the DEC runs a "black bear management cooperator" program that encourages hunters to submit a tooth from the bear on a volunteer basis. Ages of the 2016 bears will be included in next year's report, but based on the 2015 report, bears in the northern zone tend to be older than in the rest of the state.
In 2015, the average age of male bears taken in the northern zone was just over 5 years old, while females averaged about 4-and-a-half years old. In the southern zone, females average just under 3-years-old, while males are a little less than 5.
"DEC collects biological data from harvested bears to determine bear condition, sex and age. Part of this effort includes the collection of a small tooth (premolar) located behind the larger canines which is used to determine the age of the bear," the DEC's bear tooth collection page says. "In many cases, DEC staff cannot physically check every bear, so hunter cooperation by submitting a tooth from their bear is an important contribution to bear management.
"DEC is primarily interested in receiving the premolar tooth, and to ensure a usable sample, sending two premolars is better than only sending one. If you are unable to pull a premolar, the jaw can be cut or submitted whole. If there are both large and small premolars, remove the largest ones. The age can only be determined by the root of the tooth, so be careful not to break the root as you extract the tooth."
Hunters who send in a tooth for analysis will receive a letter with the bear's age and a cooperator patch. Many taxidermists will submit a tooth for the hunter, and more about the program can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/45598.html.
The DEC website says the oldest bear on record in New York is a 42-year-old that was killed in the Adirondack town of Newcomb in Essex County in 1974.
While bears can be taken by any hunting implement, the vast majority of bears killed last year were taken by rifle or shotgun. Muzzleloaders and bows accounted for most of the rest, while crossbows made up a small portion of the kills. A small graph in the report appears to show that at least one bear was taken by a handgun in the northern zone.
The DEC has a wide range of educational materials on black bears on its website which can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6960.html and the 2016 black bear hunting report can be seen at www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/bbrpt2016.pdf.