Already underway are spring black bear permit-only pursuits in six Northeast Washington areas. Most spring bear limited-entry hunts in southeast and western Washington areas start Monday, April 15.
Reports from the east side say a moderate snow pack is melting away nicely, so hunters who get permission from private landowners for access should find fair to good hunting at lower elevations at season’s start.
SPRING BRUIN HUNTERS START
Instituted to accomplish several management objectives rather than providing a general hunt opportunity, these are early-year, controlled access black bear opportunities (with a defined number of participants), for which each hunter must have a special permit awarded by lottery.
Open for either 46 or 61 days, depending on the hunt area, are:
- Six game management units are in the northeast part of the state.
- Nine GMUs are in the Blue Mountains (southeast Region 1), and
- Five composite (specially designed) black bear hunt areas in Western Washington.
Specific start and end dates for each area can be found on page 63 of the 2012-13 hunting regulations pamphlet.
The west-of-the-Cascades black bear hunt area menu consists of two zones in North Puget Sound (Region 4), one on the coast north of Grays Harbor (Region 6), one on the northwest side of Mount Rainier (outside the park) and one on the south side of the Capitol Forest, west of Centralia.
A key goal of the Region 1 spring bear opportunities is to equalize gender proportions in the annual black bear harvest in those management areas. However, in Western Washington, vernal hunts target black bears in places where a number of animals are damaging young conifer trees growing on state and private timberlands.
Permit levels by area range from four issued for the Couse hunt in Southeast Washington to 150 allotted for the westside’s Kapowsin hunt.
By rule in Washington, a hunter may kill two black bear in a license year (April 1 to March 31), and the one bruin allowed in the spring on a special permit counts toward this yearly limit.
Besides this main bag limit rule, hunters are limited to taking just one animal per year from Eastern Washington.
All five westside hunt areas lie predominantly on private timber holdings, and those companies generally restrict public access to their property.
Hancock Forest Management (for the Kapowsin Tree Farm) and Rayonier (for corporate lands in the Copalis hunt area) require black bear hunters to purchase access permits to enter their lands, while several other companies make specific arrangements for hunters to gain access to their holdings through locked gates.
Except for the limited-entry characteristic, spring hunts for black bear are governed by much the same rules as the fall general seasons.
Besides the special 2013 spring bear hunt permit, participants must have a valid basic 2013 Washington hunting license listing black bear as an option as well as a valid 2013 black bear transport tag.
As with the fall general bruin season, any lawful hunting weapon (modern handgun/rifle/shotgun, bow and arrow or blackpowder firearm) may be used.
However, hunting with bait and using dogs to pursue and tree black bear are both forbidden.
Spring bear hunters succeeding in their quest also must submit a pre-molar tooth and must file, whether successful or not, an annual report of all their black bear hunting activity.
Though it does not carry the force of regulation, black bear hunters, as an ethical consideration, are asked to not kill black bear sows that have cubs in tow. To guard against this they’re urged to hold their fire until they confirm that their intended quarry does not have a small cub or cubs scuttling along behind them.
In Northeast Washington, especially in the Selkirk Mountains with their confirmed remnant population, there is also the proviso that bruin hunters positively identify that their intended target is a black bear not a grizzly bear. Experts warn that color and size alone are not foolproof keys to identification.
Profiles showing all the characteristics distinguishing black from grizzly bears are available for review in Washington’s hunting regulations pamphlet, and several western states including Washington now have online study and ID tests that will further hone identification skills and accuracy.
Washington grizzlies are designated as endangered under both Washington state and federal laws and both carry stiff potential penalties for even mistakenly killing them.