Maryland's annual black bear hunt went into overtime Saturday, and some might look at the outcome as a moral victory for the hairy, soon-to-be hibernating creatures.
For the first time since the hunt was revived in 2004 after a 51-year hiatus, hunters who spent part of the past six days in Garrett and Allegany counties failed to meet the quota set by the state Department of Natural Resources' Heritage and Wildlife Service.
According to Harry Spiker, the state's bear biologist, 94 bears were killed as of Saturday night — one shy of a quota that had been raised from last year with hopes of taking between 95 and 130. A year ago, 92 bears were killed with the quota between 80 and 110.
But Spiker considered the event a success, particularly for the fact that there was a "major increase" in the number of bears taken in Allegany County.
"We had 22 this year, and I don't think we've ever had more than 10," Spiker said.
The increase in the number of bears taken in the eastern part of the hunt corresponds with what Spiker sees as a migration of bears in that direction — as far east as Montgomery County.
The hunt was slowed this year by bad weather. After a record 41 bears were taken Monday in perfect conditions on the first day of the hunt, a combination of rain, snow and cold temperatures hit Western Maryland and contributed to a significant decline in the number of hunters as well as the amount of time they spent hunting.
It's not the first time the bear hunt has been hampered by weather. After the state reached its quota of 30 bears in 2004, the year the hunt was resumed, a foot of snow fell the following year on the first day. It took four days for the quota to be reached.
The hunt is held annually in hopes of reducing the state's bear population, estimated at about 700 adult and sub-adult bears in the most recent survey.
"Our ideal is to reach the quota, but if we don't, next year is another year," Spiker said Friday night. "We'll hunt again. It's just a blip on the radar."
Spiker said 748 hunters (32 fewer than last year) took part in the six days of hunting after a record 380 were issued permits from the more than 3,500 who applied.
The average weight of the bears killed was 148 pounds, with the biggest being a 392-pound male. It was taken Tuesday near Oakland by Mark Martin, 20, who lives in the area.
Joe Lamp was rooting for the quota not to be reached. A longtime opponent of the hunt who is a former member of the state's Wildlife Commission, Lamp sent a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley on Saturday asking him to shut down the hunt.
Told by a reporter earlier in the day that the quota had yet to be reached, Lamp said: "I'm thrilled they didn't. It's the best news for the bears."