The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages bear population size through regulated hunting.
More than just the luck of the draw
Explaining the annual bear permit process.
Dawn Bernecker Bayer
Wisconsin has a healthy bear population throughout the northern half of the state with reported sightings increasing each year in the southern half of the state.
In spring when bears emerge from their torpor (bears are not true hibernators), many begin to actively seek opportune food sources to replenish their energy needs. People will commonly see bears at bird feeders, near gardens or passing through yards. While many people enjoy observing bears, it is illegal to feed them for purposes other than legal bear hunting or bear dog training in Wisconsin due to the problems that can develop from bears associating food with humans.
In addition, there are many hunters who look forward to the challenge of pursuing a bear during the annual fall harvest season. Throughout the year, DNR representatives receive calls from hunters seeking to learn more about the annual bear permit drawing process.
What is a Class A bear license?
Class A bear licenses, or harvest permits, are awarded via a preference point system. Applicants with the greatest number of preference points within each zone are chosen first to receive a Class A license.
Each year from mid-March through Dec. 10, anyone who will be age 10 by the opening day of the following year’s bear season and who will be eligible to purchase a bear hunting license may apply for either a bear harvest tag or a preference point for the following year. The cost to apply is $3. Applicants may only apply once per year.
Wisconsin statutes dictate that hunters must apply for either a point or harvest tag at least once every three years to prevent the loss of accumulated points. Hunters may apply as a group with up to four people. Whoever has the least amount of accumulated preference points determines if all are drawn for harvest tags or all are each issued a point instead. Applicants receive a receipt that shows their choice.
Hunters who have already applied have two last minute options for making changes to their choice of harvest zone, preference point or harvest permit, group or individual application. First, they may call DNR Statewide Call Center representatives at 1(888)936-7463 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week. The second option is available 24 hours a day via the DNR online licensing site at dnr.wi.gov prior to the deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 10 each year.
The permit drawing is done in mid-February. Applicants who requested a point are awarded one point, which is then added to their accumulated total. Points are not zone specific.
Applicants who requested a harvest tag and who have enough accumulated points for their desired zone are awarded tags and their point totals return to zero. Points will not be returned to drawing winners, even if an applicant chooses not to purchase their Class A license.
When will I find out if I got a license?
Drawing winners are notified by mail that they may purchase their harvest tag and license beginning in mid-March. It is not possible to be awarded both a point and a harvest tag. Only one point can be accumulated each year per applicant. Drawing winners can request to transfer their Class A bear license to a youth ages 10-17. The transfer application must be received at least 15 days before the bear harvest season begins. Youth hunters are eligible to receive one transferred bear tag only during their lifetime.
The number of points, or years, needed to draw a harvest tag is directly influenced by the number of applicants requesting consideration for a harvest permit within each zone and their preference point status.
For the 2012 season, there were 104,391 applicants — 26,794 requested consideration for one of the 9,015 harvest tags, 77,597 applicants requested to be awarded a preference point only.
Depending on the zone choice, applicants for bear harvest tags know that it will be years before they are drawn for one. Applicants currently need to have collected between four and nine preference points in order to successfully draw a bear harvest permit.
Check your points
Hunters can check their preference point status in one of two ways: by visiting the Online Licensing Center at dnr.wi.gov or by calling the DNR Call Center toll-free at 1(888)WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463). Hunters often call DNR staff to get an estimate of the number of years before they may be drawn for a harvest tag. Drawing results are posted to the DNR’s website. Enter keywords "bear drawing."
The number of harvest tags available is based on the harvest quota determined annually. Harvest quota recommendations for each zone are based on a number of factors, including population estimates, harvest levels, success rates, nuisance and agricultural complaints, and research results.
The Natural Resources Board approves or rejects the proposed bear quotas and harvest levels annually at its January meeting.
Hunters over the age of 15 who have not drawn for a harvest tag but are still interested in baiting bear or assisting other licensed hunters with dogs need to purchase a Class B bear license.
For zones A, B and D in even numbered years, the first week of the season is open only to hunters hunting with the aid of bait or with other legal methods not utilizing dogs. In odd numbered years, the first week of the season is open only to hunters hunting bear with the aid of dogs. The bear season ends with the final week open only to those using the method that started second that year. Depending on an applicants’ preferred method of hunting this can also influence their decision to apply for a harvest permit. In Zone C hunting with the aid of dogs is not legal.
Having a bear of a time?
Anyone experiencing problems with bears should contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services on one of its toll-free lines at 1(800) 433-0663 for southern Wisconsin and 1(800) 228-1368 for northern Wisconsin.
The Department of Natural Resources partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture -Wildlife Services to handle bear damage and nuisance complaints. This should not be confused with applying for harvest tags through the bear drawing. Individuals with questions or concerns regarding bear licenses and tags should contact the Department of Natural Resources.
For more information on how to obtain a bear harvest permit, bear drawing results and youth transfer forms, please visit DNR’s website, dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/bear
Dawn Bernecker Bayer is a senior customer service representative for the Department of Natural Resources in Ladysmith.