Sex and age composition of harvested individuals often is used to estimate population parameters and inform management decisions. However, factors other than sex and age structure of the harvested population may affect composition of the harvest and complicate the interpretation of harvest data. For example, class-specific behavior could predispose certain age and sex classes to harvest. Those classes also may respond differentially to environmental variables such as natural food abundance. In addition, hunter methods such as baiting or hunting with dogs are known to alter the composition of harvests of American black bears (Ursus americanus) and influence hunter success. Bear hunting methods and general habitat characteristics vary geographically in Wisconsin, USA. From 1999 through 2004, bear hunting was regulated so that first season hunting opportunities alternated annually between hunters aided by dogs and hunters without dogs in portions of 21 northern counties. Bear hunting with dogs was prohibited in the remainder of the state. We analyzed bear harvest records from those 6 years to evaluate relative effects of forest cover, forest composition, and legal hunting methods on sex and age composition of harvested bears. With other variables held constant, mean age of harvested female bears was 0.6 years older in counties that were partially open to hunting bears with dogs. Countywide allowance of hunting with dogs equated to a 1.3 year increase in the mean age of harvested female bears over counties where the use of dogs was not permitted. A 20% increase in area of potentially mast-producing forests was associated with a 0.7 year decrease in mean age of harvested females. Mean age of harvested male bears was 0.3 years higher when hunters with dogs hunted after hunters without dogs. Finally, males comprised higher percents of harvests in counties with less total forest cover or greater mast-type forest cover when other variables were held constant. Our study suggests that variation in hunting method and habitat influenced harvest outcomes at a broad spatial scale and warrant consideration when interpreting patterns in sex and age structure of black bear harvests.
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Vol. 21 • No. 1