People are seeing a lot more bears in New Hampshire these days and bear hunters are having a lot more success, to the point that Fish and Game wants to change the way they oversee the season.

Among a set of proposed changes to hunting regulations that will be the subject of upcoming public hearings, the department wants to establish check stations for bears for the first time. If approved by the Fish and Game Commission, it would require hunters to bring the bear carcass to a designated site for registration, instead of waiting for a conservation officer to come and do it in the field.

Check stations have long existed for deer and turkey hunters. Aside from tallying the kill and confirming that the hunter was properly licensed, they are used to collect information such as weight, sex and health of the animal that helps biologists keep track of the population. For bears, the process includes removing a tooth that is sent to a laboratory for analysis.

“Historically, bears have been registered by agency staff. When bear harvest was pretty low – 300 to 500 bears a year, spread out a large number of available conservation officers, it worked. We would get to them timely, get it registered,” said Andy Timmins, leader of the state’s bear project. “Now that the harvest is bigger, over 1,000, it is becoming more of a struggle.”

The proposals, part of an every-two-year adjustment of hunting rules and schedules, will be the subject of three public hearings this month and then considered by the Fish and Game Commission at its April meeting. 

The growth of the state’s black bear population is also reflected in proposals to allow hunters to kill a second bear in the White Mountains during hunting season and an extension of the season in the state’s southwest corner. 

The season for white-tailed deer would also be loosened in several ways, reflecting the continuing growth in that species’ population. The 2022 dear harvest was the third largest in state history and the biggest in 10 years.

Proposals call for increased deer hunting opportunities in 13 of the state’s 20 Wildlife Management Units; an increase in the number of tags to 3,000 that allow killing an extra deer in the Seacoast; establishing online deer registration; allowing deer hunting deer on islands; and making it legal to kill a deer with a bow and arrow under a muzzleloader license.

As for bear check stations, Timmins said that if the commission approves the rules the department will proceed slowly, setting up a small number for the first season, probably at sporting goods stores.

That’s partly because state law doesn’t allow check stations to charge hunters for bear registration, the way they can charge for deer and turkey registration. So they will have to volunteer to take it on, at least until the legislature changes state law.

“It takes a little more training, compared to (deer),” said Timmins.  “but in most states, bears are already registered at check stations, some are done online. Very few states have a setup like we have in place.”

Bear teeth are sent to a lab in Montana, which has long analyzed them for information about the animal’s health and growth. Teeth from moose and bobcats have also been sent there for analysis. 

Hearings on proposed 2023-2024 season rules will be held:

March 30 at Fish and Game Department headquarters, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, 6 p.m.

April 4 at Keene High School, room 620, 43 Arche Street, Keene, 6 p.m.

April 5 at Fish and Game’s Region 1 office on Route 3, 629B Main Street, Lancaster, 6 p.m.

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