Wyoming’s black bear hunting has been good, and could be even better, despite chances being slim that the state will see a grizzly bear hunting season anytime soon, says an avid bear hunter and conservationist.
Meanwhile, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department this month is seeking public comment on proposed changes to black bear hunting seasons, set to resume next spring across the state.
“We have more bear hunters every year and our bear numbers are strong, really strong,” Cody resident and American Bear Foundation President Joe Kondelis told Cowboy State Daily.
Proposed changes include splitting some parts of the Bighorn Mountain region into separate hunt areas, as well as limiting the number of bait containers hunters may place at their hunting sites.
Drawing bears in with bait is allowed in Wyoming. Hunters will frequently spend hours waiting in blinds or tree stands near bait sites, hoping for a shot opportunity.
Bear hunters also will sometimes use the “spot and stalk” technique. That involves locating bears – usually with binoculars or spotting scopes – and then trying to figure out how to sneak in close enough for a kill shot.
Bear hunting seasons will continue to operate under a mortality quota system. That means only a certain number of bears, particularly females, may be killed within any given hunt area before the season for that area shuts down – regardless of how many hunters are left holding unfilled tags.
Splitting Bighorn Area Good Idea
Parsing the hunting zones in the Bighorn Mountains into different areas is a good idea, because it should give hunters more opportunity, Kondelis said.
“The east side and west side (of the mountain range) are very different areas” and weather can vary greatly between them, he said.
So, spring snow could still be too deep on one side of the mountain for hunters to access there, while the other side might be clear enough to get to, he said. That means hunters on the drier side could fill the quotas before those on the snowy side even got a chance to hunt.
The quota system “isn’t a bad thing, we’re managing black bears on the side of caution,” he said.
Bear Meat – Make Sure It’s Cooked Properly
And that’s paid off with a robust black bear population that also seems to be attracting more people to bear hunting, Kondelis said.
“The amount of bear hunters compared to deer and elk hunters is still relatively small,” he said, adding the number appears to be growing.
“There’s more people getting interested in it,” he said. “That’s for a couple of reasons. It gives people an opportunity to get out and hunt in the spring. And I think we’re starting to break down barrier of people not wanting to eat bear meat.”
People have a mistaken perception that bear meat isn’t particularly tasty, Kondelis said. But it can come down to how it’s prepared.
“Almost all of our bears we make into breakfast sausage, jerky and slow roasts,” he said.
Proper and thorough cooking of bear meat is a must, he added. That because, like pork, bear meat can carry trichinosis, a round worm infection that can make people sick.
The infection can be treated with medication, according to the Mayo Clinic. But left untreated it can cause an array of symptoms, some of them serious, including fatigue, high fever, aching joints, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation and maladies.
Not Holding Breath For Griz Hunts
Like many Wyomingites, Kondelis thinks it’s high time Wyoming has grizzly hunting seasons, but he doesn’t expect that will be anytime soon.
Grizzly hunts in Wyoming were set to open in 2018, but then shut down by a court order to keep grizzlies in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana under federal protection.
There’s no reason to think that shutdown will be lifted in time for the 2023 bear hunting seasons, Kondelis said.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t even ruled on the petitions we sent them,” Kondelis said. “And that was a year ago.”
He was referring to petitions requesting clearance for grizzly hunts sent in 2021 from the governors of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho to the USFWS. The agency still has overriding control of grizzly bear management in all three states.
Meanwhile, in apparent hope that someday Wyoming will have grizzly hunts, the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force recommended that, should the hunts get the green light, nonresident grizzly hunting tags should cost $7,500.
It was part of a proposal to boost non-resident fees for all of Wyoming’s “Big 5” trophy game species.
Wildlife Task Force Recommends Cranking Up Out-Of-State “Big 5” Trophy Hunting Licenses | Cowboy State Daily
The other “Big 5” species include bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bison and moose.
Public Gets Its Say
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department reviews black bear hunting regulations every three years. That’s happening again this year.
The agency is hosting public meetings around the state to gather comments from bear hunters and taking comments online. Drafts of the bear hunt regulations, including proposed changes, also are available online.
The regulations will be considered by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission when it meets in Cheyenne on Jan. 11-12. The commission has the authority to set Game and Fish policy.
Spring and fall black bear hunting seasons are set for 2023, with the earliest spring hunts opening in April and May in hunt areas across the state.