Record Black Bear Harvest

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West Virginia bear hunters harvested a state record 1,335 bruins during the combined archery and firearms seasons, according to William K. Igo, Black Bear Project Leader for the Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section. The preliminary harvest total is seven more than the previous record of 1,328 established in 2000, and 7% higher than the 1,253 killed in 2001.

"Our biologists had predicted a record statewide bow kill and a very depressed December firearms harvest in the traditional bear-hunting mountain counties, based on record low food supplies," said Igo. "Poor availability of acorn, beechnut, and hickory nuts tends to cause bears to den early, making them less vulnerable to December gun hunters."

Black bear hunting opportunities have expanded greatly over the past five years to include a statewide archery season, additional gun hunting, and a special November season in five southern counties where bear populations were above management objectives. Bear seasons have been adjusted with respect to the biological and sociological carrying capacities of each region.

"We were extremely pleased with the new seasons in the five southern counties. Without these additional opportunities to hunters, harvests in this area would have been very low. In this region we are attempting to reduce nuisance bear problems by stabilizing populations and targeting problem animals," said Igo.

The total harvest during the early gun season with dogs and the first week of buck gun season without dogs was 215 bears. The harvests during the early gun season with dogs were as follows: Nicholas (37), Kanawha (35), Fayette (28), Boone (24), and Raleigh (14). During the first week of buck season without dogs the harvests were as follows: Nicholas (25), Kanawha (19), Boone (14), Fayette (10), and Raleigh (9).

Bowhunters checked in 725 bears, 54% higher than the previous archery record of 470 set in 2001. West Virginia biologists recently analyzed over 20 years of data that showed a correlation between bear archery harvests and mast conditions. During years of poor hard mast production, bears concentrate their movements around available food supplies, making them more vulnerable to archery hunting in October and November. The low hard mast production in 2002 was the main factor for the record harvest this year.

The top 5 archery harvest counties were Randolph (137), Greenbrier (78), Nicholas (67), Webster (64), and Pocahontas (53). The unofficial 2002 firearms harvest of 610 bears is 22% below the 783 harvested in 2001. The top firearms counties were Nicholas (78), Pocahontas (62), Kanawha (56), Randolph (55), and Fayette (53). Counties with best overall harvests were Randolph (192), Nicholas (145), Greenbrier (119), Pocahontas (115), and Webster (106).