CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia's firearm season for buck deer opens Nov. 19, hunters in eight of the state's counties will have an opportunity to kill a bear as well as a deer.Those eight counties - Kanawha, Boone, Fayette, Raleigh, Monongalia, Preston and Morgan - are open to what wildlife officials call "concurrent deer and bear hunting."Colin Carpenter, bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources, called the Nov. 19-Dec. 1 season "a good opportunity for folks who aren't die-hard bear hunters to go ahead and take a bear."DNR officials created the season to reduce populations in counties where bears are too abundant."The idea is to allow bear hunting at a time when most hunters are in the woods, and that is during the buck season," Carpenter said. "Concurrent deer and bear hunting is our most liberal bear-hunting regulation. It's reserved for counties where we really see a need to bring the population down."The first deer-bear hunts were held in Boone, Kanawha, Fayette and Raleigh counties, four southern counties where bear birth rates are phenomenally high. Since then, the number of counties has expanded. Carpenter said the roster of open counties varies from year to year.
"We monitor bear populations pretty closely, and we have a pretty good idea from year to year which counties have too many bears and which ones are safely within our management guidelines," he explained. "When we know a county's population is above our guidelines, we put this regulation in. When the population comes down, we take it off. So the number of open counties tends to change."Carpenter said the concurrent season "has been very successful" at doing what it is intended to do. "Two years ago, we opened Hampshire County during the buck season, and we tripled the harvest for that season. We were able to achieve a significant reduction in the population in a very short time frame."Like all bear harvests, the kill during the concurrent season depends largely on how abundant acorns and other favored bear foods might be. When food is abundant and widespread, bears tend to spread out and are difficult to locate. When food is scarce, they're much easier to find because they concentrate anywhere food can be found."They'll be hard to find because there's a lot of white oak and chestnut oak acorns out there," Carpenter said. "The only question is whether the deep snows that came during Hurricane Sandy might have sent some bears [into hibernation]."I suspect the pregnant females might have gone to bed. For the rest of the population, the abundance of food should keep them out later."Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.