The fall bear-hunting season opens in most of northwestern Ontario today and, if trends so far stay the same, more hunters may be signing up for licences.

"Black bears are an amazing species to hunt," said John Kaplanis, a Thunder Bay bow hunter, outdoor writer and head of the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmans Alliance.

In the past, hunters targeting bears were mostly Americans, but he said that changed as local hunters began to realize bears are good to eat and a challenge to hunt.   

"They are very challenging," Kaplanis said. "I had a lot of pre-conceived notions that bear hunting might not be that difficult. But I was pleasantly surprised at the challenge bear hunting presented."

The rise in local hunters has come over the last 10-15 years, "because it is a good hunting opportunity and there are a lot of bears out there. Bear hunters are learning that the meat is great table fare," he added.

6,000 bears harvested in Ontario each year

Jimmy Vescio agrees.

The staff member at D and R Sporting Goods in Thunder Bay said he 's seeing the increased interest from local residents.

"There [have] been more bear hunters coming in for licences and components for hunting with bow and rifle. And I have noticed that there is much more interest in bear hunting," he said.

Vescio pointed out the store recently sold out of crossbows, thanks to resident bear hunters snapping them up.

The Ministry of Natural Resources estimates about 6,000 bears are harvested in Ontario each year out of an estimated population of 100,000. Resident bear licence sales have grown steadily and are now about double those of non residents.  

A non-resident bear licence is $230.31 and a resident bear licence is $46.17.

Kaplanis noted some resident hunters have embraced bear hunting as a way to control their population, as bears are predators that can impact both moose and deer populations.

However, the avid outdoorsman added: "We want to maintain them on the landscape as a recognized, valued and respected big game animal. Rather than see them hunted as a pest or a nuisance."