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Not a question of if, but when
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MINERAL POINT - Residents of southwestern Wisconsin are more likely to observe a black bear this year than ever before, based on reports coming in to Department of Natural Resources officials. One rural Mineral Point resident was a bit startled to find one lounging on her deck last week.

"I heard something out on the deck," said Bonnie Nortman, who lives with her husband, Ray, about three miles north of Mineral Point on County E. "Then I saw it go by the window."

The young bear sauntered calmly down the steps and strolled over to check out a row of garbage cans lined up next to the garage. "I didn't want him pawing through the garbage, so I rapped on the window," Nortman said. "He looked at me and then walked off into the woods."

Western Area Wildlife Supervisor Bill Ishmael figures the bear is probably a 2-year-old weighing around 150 pounds. He believes it might be the same bear that several people reported seeing north of Wisconsin 18 near Edmund over the weekend.

The number of sightings in the area is increasing, according to Ishmael. "We've seen quite a few more this year than over the past 10 years or so," he said.

It is usually the younger males that are showing up in the southwestern part of the state. The younger ones are driven off during the mating season, which takes place in June, Ishmael said. "The big adult males won't tolerate having them around."

He expects to see more of them in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin. The habitat is excellent, he said, noting the abundance of natural food supplies, denning sites and relatively large blocks of timber.

Ishmael is also not surprised by the distance younger bears will travel in a season. He recalls one hibernating near Spring Green in 1995 that DNR biologists were able to rig with a radio collar. The bear was shot by a hunter in Shawano County in September of the same year.

Not only did the bear travel a great distance, but gained between 50 and 60 pounds during the trip, according to Ishmael. Adult bears normally have a range of 20-square-miles for males and 10-square-miles for females, he added.

To some, the thought of a 500-pound bruin scratching at the tree trunk below your tree stand might be a bit scary. I'm rather excited, however, about the prospect of having a big, burly, black bear ambling along a game trail some crisp autumn afternoon.

And I'm feeling somewhat cheated with all these sightings. A bear was seen near Mt. Vernon in Dane County recently, and there have been a number of sightings just to the southwest in Lafayette County. Why not in my back 40?

We can assume having bears around will one day become as routine for us southerners as it is for the folks in northern Wisconsin who have always co-existed with these critters. Can't wait for my turn to catch a glimpse.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at