It’s getting hard to tell West Virginia’s early bear seasons from one another without a scorecard, or at least a biologist, to keep things straight.
Colin Carpenter, bear project leader for the Division of Natural Resources, is just such a biologist, and he said hunters’ prospects for the state’s third early firearm season are “excellent.”
“We have a very, very strong bear population everywhere,” he said. “If the number of bear sightings this past summer is any indication, we should have another really good season.”
Two firearm seasons have been completed so far — one in the state’s far southwestern counties and one in the mountain counties. The next one, scheduled for Oct. 5–11, focuses on Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh counties.
“There’s a very high bear density in those counties,” Carpenter said. “The thing that stands out about them is that there’s a high human density, which leads to a lot of bear-human contact.
At one time, those counties were home to the Mountain State’s very highest concentration of bears. Carpenter isn’t sure that’s still the case, but he said they’re still one of the state’s best places for bear hunters to go.
“When we first started implementing an early firearm season, this was the area we first focused on,” he added. “It has remained really productive.”
One reason for its productivity, he added, is the human population.
“Bears that live around humans tend to run into lots of human-provided foods, things like bird seed, pet food, fruit from trees, corn from deer feeders, and kitchen garbage in trash cans,” he said. “Those food sources are high in calories and require less energy for the bears to acquire.”
Extra nutrition from human sources gives bears in the state’s southern counties a distinct reproductive advantage.
“Female bears in the southern counties tend to give birth to their first cubs at age 3, whereas bears in the north don’t have theirs until age 4,” Carpenter explained. “Part of that is tied to the increased diversity of food sources in the south.”
He said it’s “hard to fathom” that the mining-abused landscapes in the south would enjoy such an advantage over the vast expanse of national forest land in the mountain counties, but they do.
The Oct. 5–11 season is open to hunters who use dogs as well as those who do not. The dense network of roads in the four-county area provides plenty of jumping-off points for hunters in both disciplines.
Public land choices include the 9,302-acre Kanawha State Forest near Charleston and the 72,808-acre New River Gorge National River in Fayette and Raleigh counties. Portions of both areas are closed to hunting, so hunters should check local regulations to keep from running afoul of the authorities.
One likely benefit to hunters during the third season will be cooler temperatures. High daytime temperatures during the first two seasons caused some hunters to gripe about running their dogs in such conditions.
“They might grumble about the heat, but they’re still participating, and that’s what’s important,” Carpenter said. “As we move farther into the fall, air temperatures should get much better for the houndsmen.”
If past seasons are any indication, hunters should bag 80 to 120 bears the seven-day season.
“Since we split Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh off from the mountain counties and gave them their own season, the harvest has fluctuated between those two numbers,” Carpenter said. “That’s darned good productivity for just one week.”