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DNR: Bear hunters doing well so far this fall; December season looks promising


If heavy snows stay away, West Virginia’s bear hunters could enjoy significant success during the state’s December firearm season. Wildlife officials believe the presence of acorns, particularly red and black oak, could help bears delay hibernation.

Not to be trite, but bear hunters have been “killing it” this fall.

“It’s been a good year so far,” said Colin Carpenter, bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. “Our bow kill is up substantially over last year, and the results of the early firearm seasons were all up over last year.”

The firearm season that coincides with the statewide firearm season for buck deer is still underway, so no results are yet available. But, Carpenter said, the overall trend is positive.

That bodes well for hunters who will soon head afield for the season’s final segment, which begins on Dec. 9 and runs through Dec. 31.

“If the weather doesn’t get real bad and if the bears’ food supply holds out, I would expect hunters to have a good December season,” Carpenter added.

In West Virginia, bears begin to hibernate in December. When snow is abundant or when acorns are particularly scarce, they tend to hibernate early.

So far, Carpenter said, the weather hasn’t soured and the supply of acorns seems adequate.

“Really, the number of bears in the woods from now through the end of the year will depend on how much mast is left out there,” he explained. “We had a pretty good red oak [acorn] crop this fall, so I suspect there are still acorns out there for the bears to eat.”

Carpenter assesses acorn abundance by keeping a close watch on the archery harvest.

“If the weekly kill starts to shrink, it’s a sign that maybe bears are starting to den,” he said. “It has slowed down, but not by much. I think there is still mast available.”

At the time he was interviewed for this report, Carpenter said this year’s combined archery and firearm harvests were approaching the 2,000 mark. Last year, the late November-through-December portion of the season produced 1,404 bears, and that was in a year when acorns were pretty scarce.

“What happens this December will depend almost entirely on the food supply,” Carpenter said.

If hunters match last year’s December performance, the total harvest should push well past 3,000 and could conceivably top 2015’s record kill of 3,201.

The December season is open to hunters who hunt with or without dogs. Hunting without dogs is allowed statewide, but hunting with dogs is restricted to 24 counties, or parts thereof:

Eastern Barbour, Boone, eastern Braxton, southern Clay, Fayette, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, western Mineral, Mingo, eastern Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Raleigh, Randolph, Tucker, eastern Upshur, Webster and Wyoming.

“It’s our oldest and most traditional bear season,” Carpenter said, “and a lot of hunters still look forward to it.”

Reach John McCoy at, 304-348-1231 or follow

@GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.