Despite what the calendar says, bears in northern Ontario may tuck into their dens a little longer, to wait out the spring thaw.
“Very likely the bears will sort of semi-emerge from the den and they will decide right then and there whether or not it's worth looking for food,” said Mark Ryckman, a senior wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
“If there is still three feet of snow on the ground, they will likely just head back into the den.”
Ryckman said most bears in the north went into hibernation with excellent fat reserves last fall, thanks to a bumper crop of berries.
"If [the bears’] bodies are telling them they really need to eat, that will push them out of the den, or could push them out almost regardless of what the conditions are like,” he said, “But in terms of timing of going into the den and emerging from the den, that varies quite a bit. In northern Ontario, bears will den for five months or more."
That means hunters participating in Ontario's first spring bear hunt in 15 years may face an unusual challenge.
The hunt is scheduled to start May 1 in a handful of northern wildlife management units, including Thunder Bay.
The snow pack may not be gone by then, which could affect hunter success, Ryckman noted.
“It might for the first short portion of the season. But the season extends all the way to mid-June. It shouldn't be a problem for hunters to view and harvest a bear prior to June 15.”
The Ministry of Natural Resources also says bears tend to stay in their dens until there is some new growth for them to eat, after most of the snow is gone. Nevertheless, the MNR is already reminding people how to avoid hungry bears.