Season Dates, Regulations and Hours
Black bears are perhaps the single species most emblematic of Wisconsin's Northwoods and have a distinct cultural, social and economic value. Seeing a black bear in the wild is an exciting experience for many and an equal thrill for those who prize the black bear as a big game species.
2023 Season Dates
|Zones A, B, D: where dogs are permitted|
|Sept. 13–Oct. 3||
|Zones C, E, F: where dogs are not permitted|
|Sept. 6–Oct. 10||
Please see the Season Dates and Applications webpage for application deadlines and other species harvest season dates.
A complete list of rules and regulations can be found in the Fall 2023 - Spring 2024 Combined Hunting Regulations [PDF].
Additionally, hunters should review the current regulations regarding baiting and feeding.
Hunting hours differ depending on the location in the state. Hunters can use the following documents to check hunting hours in the part of the state they hunt.
Purchase A Hunting License
To hunt black bears in Wisconsin, you must possess a Class A bear license.
You may obtain a Class A bear license by:
- being selected in the bear drawing,
- participating in the Learn to Bear Hunt Program,
- receiving a Class A bear license transfer via the Awarded Permit Transfers Program,
- the Deceased Customer Preference Approval Transfer [PDF]
How To Apply For The Class A Bear License
More hunters apply than the number of annual licenses available. According to state statute, Class A licenses, also called harvest permits or kill tags, are awarded through a "preference point lottery system." To be authorized to purchase a Class A license, you must be a drawing winner. You may apply once yearly and buy a preference point or ask to be included in the drawing. If you are not a drawing winner, one preference point will be added to your total.
The number of preference points needed to be a drawing winner depends on several variables, including the number of harvest permits allotted for the upcoming season, the number of applicants and the bear management zone you wish to hunt.
Check out the 2023 Bear License Drawing Summary for details about the drawing for the 2023 season.
Where To Apply
Applications for a Class A bear license can be made online or at any license sales location. Please note paper applications are no longer available. The deadline for bear season applications is always on Dec. 10. before the season.
When To Apply For A Preference Point Only
Some hunters may not wish to hunt the upcoming bear season but would still like to accumulate a preference point. The bear application allows the applicant to specify a preference point-only application, which does not place them in the drawing. Once an applicant is a drawing winner, they are authorized to purchase a Class A license and their preference point total returns to zero. Their preference point total is reset to zero even if, for some reason, they cannot or choose not to hunt bears that year.
The preference point-only option is excellent when an applicant does not risk being a drawing winner but still wishes to increase their preference point total.
Check Your Preference Points
There are three ways hunters can determine the number of preference points they have accumulated. You must apply for a bear license or preference point at least once every three years to avoid losing your accumulated preference points. To find out how many points you have accumulated:
- contact the DNR Call Center at 1-888-936-7463;
- visit the online licensing center; or
- contact your local DNR Service Center.
A maximum of four people who wish to hunt together may apply for a Class A bear hunting license as a group. In this scenario, all group members will share the same result (successful or unsuccessful) in the license lottery. Each group must designate a group leader, and the group leader's DNR customer I.D. number must be written on each group member's application in the designated section when applying. If group members have different preference point statuses, the lowest preference point status is used for the entire group in the drawing. Group members must each apply for identical zones; if different, the group leader's choice will be used.
How Are Drawing Winners Notified
The bear drawing is held in early-mid February. Shortly after the drawing, the department will send a postcard notifying drawing winners they are authorized to purchase a Class A bear license.
You may also check your drawing results online by accessing your DNR Customer account. After the drawing, accounts will be updated to notify the drawing winners that they have been authorized to purchase a Class A license. The permit applicant must know their drawing status and whether they were selected for purchasing a harvest permit. If selected in the drawing, your preference point total will return to zero even if you do not purchase the Class A bear license.
Transfer A Permit Or Preference Points
A person authorized to purchase a license for a permit or harvest authorization issued under a cumulative preference drawing may transfer their awarded permit or harvest authorization to another who meets the required qualifications. Generally, preference points may not be transferred. However, a surviving spouse, personal representative, guardian or trustee (designee) may authorize a transfer of awarded permits, harvest authorizations or accumulated preference points/preference category from a deceased individual to a minor. Please visit the Awarded Permit or Harvest Authorizations Transfers page to learn more.
Miscellaneous Notes About The Bear Application Process
- You must apply at least once every three years, or your preference point total returns to zero.
- Residents and non-residents are treated equally in the drawing.
- Preference points are not associated with a specific bear management zone. Specify the bear management zone only when requesting to be included in the bear drawing.
Learn To Hunt Bear
Beginning in 2005, the Wisconsin DNR began offering Learn to Hunt Bear opportunities for novice hunters. The Learn to Hunt Bear Program is another opportunity to provide a unique, safe and memorable outdoor experience to novice hunters who would not otherwise get the chance to hunt bear. The Learn To Hunt Bear Program represents the opportunity of a lifetime for a novice hunter.
Working in partnership with many dedicated bear hunters and local conservation organizations, successful Learn To Hunt Bear events have been held annually across the northern half of Wisconsin.
Damage Permit Hunting and Access
Along with counties and USDA-Wildlife Services, the department assists agricultural producers with damages caused by bears through the Wildlife Damage Abatement Claims Program. In exchange for providing damage prevention assistance, public hunting access during the bear hunting season is required on properties enrolled in the Wildlife Damage Abatement Claims Program. To learn more about these opportunities, including a list of properties open to bear hunting, visit the Wildlife Damage Abatement Claims Program page.
Where To Hunt
Bear hunting in Wisconsin is divided into six management zones. Bear hunting licenses are zone-specific, so hunters need to pay attention to where they are authorized to hunt this season. Wisconsin's occupied bear range is expanding, increasing opportunities for hunters.
PUBLIC ACCESS LANDS
- The Public Access Lands viewer is an interactive web mapping application that can be used to locate, access and view information about open public lands.
- The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) provides financial incentives to private landowners who open their property to public hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife observation. To find a list of VPA-HIP properties, please see the VPA-HIP Program page.
- Through the Managed Forest Law (MFL) and Forest Crop Law (FCL) programs, some private forest lands are open to the public for recreational purposes. This web mapping tool can help you find which lands are now available.
Hunting Safety Tips
Hunter Safety Education
Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1973, must complete a hunter education course and have a hunter education safety certificate on file to purchase any hunting license in Wisconsin. However, if they will be hunting under the hunting mentorship program or they have successfully completed and have proof of completing basic training in the U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves or National Guard, they do not need a hunter education safety certificate to purchase a hunting license. To view available courses, visit the Safety Education page.
Please see the Outdoor Skills page for additional safety resources and information.
Follow the four rules of basic firearm safety – TAB-K.
- T = Treat every firearm as if it is loaded. Never assume a gun is unloaded and never treat it that way, even if you watch as it is unloaded. Make it a habit to treat guns like they are always loaded.
- A = Always point the muzzle in a safe direction. About one-third of all hunting incidents are self-inflicted injuries. That means the muzzle was pointed at some part of the hunter's body. A safe approach is where the bullet will travel and harm no one in the event of an unwanted discharge. There are no accidental discharges with firearms, only unwanted discharges.
- B = Be sure of your target and what's beyond it. Positive target identification is a must. To shoot at something you only think is a legal target is gambling. In the case of human injury, that means gambling on human life. You must be specific and correct in judgment before deciding to shoot. Otherwise, it's reckless behavior. In addition to identifying the target, a hunter must know that a safe backstop for their bullet is present in every shooting situation. We don't always hit our target; in some cases, the bullet passes through the target. A safe backstop guarantees that no one will get hurt.
- K = Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot. If a hunter stumbles with a firearm in one hand and nothing in the other, whatever that person does with their free hand will automatically happen with the hand holding the gun. If a finger is inside the trigger guard, that hand will likely close around the gun's pistol grip and on the trigger causing an unwanted discharge.
Bear License Drawing Information
- The deadline to apply for a license or preference points is December 10 each year.
- View a summary of the 2023 Bear License Drawing.
- A person authorized to purchase a license for a permit or harvest authorization issued under a cumulative preference drawing may transfer their awarded permit or harvest authorization to another who meets the required qualifications.
- To learn more, please visit the Purchasing a Hunting License tab
FIRST HARVEST CERTIFICATE
If a bear hunter wants to apply for a First Bear Harvest Certificate, they should fill out the form and submit a photo of them in the field. More details can be found on the First Harvest Certificates webpage.
Bear Hunting With Hounds In Wolf-Occupied Areas
Bear range overlaps with wolf range in parts of Wisconsin. Dog owners are reminded to exercise caution in wolf-occupied areas, especially those using their dogs to hunt. Conflicts between hunting dogs and wolves are most common during the bear training and hunting season. Dogs have also been depredated, pursuing other wildlife, including foxes, coyotes, bobcats, rabbits, snowshoe hares and upland birds. For additional guidance and information about protecting pet dogs and bear hounds from wolves, see guidance for hound and pet dog owners.
The DNR establishes wolf caution areas where conflicts have occurred. Caution areas can be viewed through the wolf depredation application. Individuals hunting or pursuing wildlife with the aid of dogs should view caution areas and take precautions to help reduce conflicts. In addition to the website resources, anyone can subscribe for free to the department’s email and text messaging update system to receive timely alerts and updates on a variety of topics, including wolf conflicts.
Anyone suspecting a wolf attack in northern Wisconsin should call USDA-WS immediately at 1-800-228-1368 (in-state) or 715-369-5221. In southern Wisconsin, call 1-800-433-0663 (in-state) or 920-324-4514.
Wisconsin Black Bear Population and Harvest Reports
For detailed reports regarding black bear population analyses, hunter questionnaires and annual harvest reports, visit the Wisconsin Wildlife Reports webpage
Register A Harvest
Please familiarize yourself with any changes before the start of the season. Carcass tag requirements are explained below.
In addition, resources on this page detail these changes and the steps needed to successfully register your bear and submit a tooth to the department. Successful hunters should have received a letter containing the necessary materials before the start of the season.
Bear registration remains mandatory in Wisconsin and is the responsibility of the individual hunter. It is not optional.
How To Register A Bear Electronically
After immediately validating your harvest, hunters have several options for registering their bear.
- Online (most straightforward and fastest): On a computer or mobile device, go to gamereg.wi.gov and enter your harvest information.
- Phone: Dial 1-844-426-3734 (1-844-GAME-REG) and follow the prompts to provide harvest information.
- In-person: Visit a designated in-person station that offers a phone or computer to hunters to register your bear—search businesses offering in-person registration options.
Information Required To Register A Bear
The following information will be required to register your bear.
- 10-digit bear carcass tag number (printed on the carcass tag)
- Date of kill
- Did you harvest this animal with agricultural damage or nuisance permit (yes or no)
- County of kill
- Bear zone and game management unit of harvest [PDF]
- Type of animal harvested (Male or female)
- Harvest method (bait/scent only, dogs and bait and scent, dogs only or another method)
- Weapon (gun, vertical bow or crossbow)
Bear Registration Confirmation Number And Carcass Tag Regulations
Hunters will receive a 10-character confirmation number after registration. This will indicate to a conservation warden, wildlife biologist or meat processor that the animal has been appropriately registered. Carcass tags must only be attached to the animal IF you leave it. The carcass tag can remain in your possession if you do not leave the animal. If you leave it, tag it!
Placing the paper carcass tag in a plastic bag is advisable to prevent the destruction of the paper carcass tag.
The hunter must retain the carcass tag until the meat is consumed.
- All bears must be registered by 5 p.m. the day after the animal was recovered and tagged.
- Although all registration is electronic, the department still requires the submission of a bear tooth.
Bear Tooth Collection Instructions
In addition to electronic harvest registration, successful hunters are required to submit two upper premolar teeth from their harvested bear. These teeth are the small teeth located directly behind the large canine teeth on both the left and right sides of the upper jaw. Hunters need to submit both of these small teeth in the envelopes provided. These teeth will provide important data on the harvested animals, which is critical to the DNR’s ability to manage Wisconsin’s black bear population scientifically.
Hunters are required to submit tooth samples by mail. In-person registration stations will not submit tooth samples for you. Hunters will be provided detailed instructions and materials to submit their bear teeth. Teeth should be submitted by Oct. 15.
To collect the teeth:
- Remove teeth by cutting the gum tissue around both of the 1st premolars behind each of the large upper canine teeth (see pictures), then use a small screwdriver to loosen and then pliers to gently pry the teeth out with the intact. Take care not to damage the roots. If the roots are damaged, the lab may not be able to determine the age of your bear.
- If you break a root, remove the second upper premolar, located just behind the first premolar you just removed. If unable to remove the second premolar, send in the broken tooth and root.
- Remove any tissue or blood from on the teeth.
- Place one clean and dry tooth into each of the envelopes that will be provided and tape or staple the envelopes closed.
- Put both brown envelopes with hunter information attached in the provided white pre-paid return envelope and mail them to the Wisconsin DNR.
- Do not store the teeth in any plastic, as it will prevent drying.
Submitting Teeth Directly To The Department
Hunters who successfully drew a Class A bear harvest permit should have received the materials required to submit teeth to the department before the bear season. If you did not receive these materials, you may submit your teeth directly to the department by folding them into a piece of paper, placing the folded paper with teeth in a paper envelope, and mailing them directly to the department. Please include the 10-digit registration confirmation number, DNR customer I.D. number, hunter's first and last name and bear management zone of harvest with the teeth. Do not store or mail the teeth in plastic, as this prohibits them from drying.
Attn: Bear Tooth
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
107 Sutliff Avenue
Rhinelander WI, 54501
Bear Health and Diseases
Wisconsin's black bear population has been increasing and expanding its range in recent decades, and they can encounter a number of diseases during their lifetime. Today's population is healthy and robust due to prudent management of the species and its habitat. Below are a few known diseases affecting bears across their entire North American range.
Sarcoptic Mange: What Is It And What Does It Look Like?
Sarcoptic mange in bears has become an increasingly important topic in the last decade as it significantly impacts some bear populations on the eastern side of the U.S., particularly in Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Wisconsin, sarcoptic mange has not yet been detected in bears, though wildlife health surveillance efforts continue.
- A contagious skin disease caused by the bites of mites (Sarcoptes scabiei).
- Symptoms include Hair loss, dehydration, itching, crusting and inflamed skin, usually starting on the head and neck region and working back. Severe cases will affect the whole body. Mange makes the skin prone to secondary infections from yeast and bacteria. The infection can be mild or severe depending on the host's immune response to the mites.
- To learn more about mange in bears, please visit:
Trichinella: What Is It?
- Trichinella is a parasitic roundworm (Trichinella spiralis) that black bears can carry. There is no evidence that their presence causes significant mortality or even clinical disease in Wisconsin's bear population.
- It can be contracted by humans who eat infected muscle tissue.
- Trichinella can cause Trichinosis in humans 2-8 weeks after eating infected and improperly cooked meat.
- Symptoms include gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, stomach pain, fever, chills, headaches, muscle soreness, and swelling around the eyes.
- Trichinella can cause Trichinosis in humans 2-8 weeks after eating infected and improperly cooked meat.
How To Safely Consume Bear Meat That May Be Infected With Trichinella
- Safe wild game cooking practices will make the meat safe to eat by killing the parasites. Please visit the CDC - Trichinellosis page for additional information on the safe handling and preparation of bear meat for consumption.
What To Do For Sick Black Bears
Sick or dead bears should be reported to the DNR Wildlife Hotline by emailing DNRWildlifeSwitchboard@wisconsin.gov or calling 608-267-0866 and leaving a detailed message. Do not approach, feed, give water to, or otherwise interact with the animal.