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Bear

It might seem a little unusual to go bear hunting in August, but some folks appear to like it.

West Virginia’s earliest firearm season for black bear has grown in popularity in the four years since it was implemented. Colin Carpenter, bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources, said the 16-day season is even drawing attention from out-of-state hunters.

“It’s getting interest from houndsmen and houndswomen from bordering states,” he explained. “I’ve talked with hunters from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, all of whom come up to participate in the early hunt.”

The season also attracts a lot of attention from resident hunters, many of whom have started making an annual pilgrimage to Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties — the four counties for which the season was created.

“At first, we weren’t sure how much hunters would like the season, but our harvest has been steadily increasing,” Carpenter said. “That’s a pretty good indicator that the number of hunters is increasing, too.”

DNR officials created the early hunt to try to keep the bear population in those counties from spiraling out of control.

“We used to have those four counties lumped into an early season with Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh counties,” Carpenter explained. “We quickly realized that having eight counties open at the same time was killing the harvest in Boone, Kanawha, Fayette and Raleigh, so we separated the two areas in order to concentrate the hunting pressure on one at a time.”

The only other time frame available for the Logan-McDowell-Mingo-Wyoming season ran the opening date all the way into August, which meant that hunters would be running their dogs in really hot weather. DNR officials weren’t sure dog owners would be willing to take that risk, so they sought to make the season more attractive by making it long enough to include three weekends.

So far, hunters have responded.

“Last year’s kill was 147 bears,” Carpenter said. “It was in the 120s last year. Frankly, I’d be happy if we could tack on another 20 to 50 bears this year.”

Bears in the southern part of the state reproduce at a higher rate than bears in the northern and high-mountain regions. A population dynamic study showed, in no uncertain terms, that sow bears in the south averaged two to three cubs in a litter. By comparison, bears in the north and in the mountains average just one to two cubs.

“We want to be proactive and keep the population in check,” Carpenter said. “We don’t want to let it grow to a point we have to play catch-up.”

That was exactly what happened during the 1990s in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh counties. Bear populations in those counties climbed to a level that had biologists chasing hundreds of nuisance-bear complaints every spring and summer.

Carpenter said complaints in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties haven’t yet reached that level.

“The human population density in the extreme southwestern coalfield counties isn’t as high as it is in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh, so we get fewer complaints from down there,” he added. “We do have a growing bear population there, and we want hunters to harvest some of those animals before things get out of control.”

This year’s season, slated to open on Aug. 29, will be open to hunters who use hounds as well as those who don’t.

“We’re hoping we have a good turnout,” Carpenter said. “Maybe some people who have been stuck at home because of the COVID-19 virus will want to get out and do some bear hunting.

“The nice thing about the season is that hunters don’t have to take as much time off. With three weekends available, they can hunt their dogs and then rest them before they go out again. It’s a season that definitely gives hunters some options.”

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.