Colin Carpenter could see it coming.
Carpenter, West Virginia’s bear project leader, had a feeling as early as mid-September that the state’s bear hunters might be in for a record-breaking season. He was right. They not only broke the record, they shattered it.
Between Aug. 29 and Jan. 17, they killed 3,541 bears, 11 percent more than they killed in 2015, when they set the previous record.
Carpenter, a biologist for the state Division of Natural Resources, said last fall’s shortage of nuts and other favored bear foods helped make bears more available to hunters.
“Scarce mast yields an increased bow/crossbow harvest and a decreased December firearms harvest,” he explained.
That’s pretty much the way the season went down. From the time the archery season opened on Sept. 26 until it closed on Nov. 22, bowhunters killed 1,095 bears — 569 with vertical bows and 526 with crossbows.
By contrast, firearms hunters killed just 747 bears during the traditional December season. Carpenter said cold temperatures and a couple of snowstorms early in the month caused many bears to hibernate a little earlier than they otherwise might have.
Most of the firearm harvest occurred in region-specific seasons held earlier in the fall. Hunters bagged 1,225 bears in September and October, and an additional 470 during the concurrent buck-bear hunting season in November.
Had those early seasons not been there, Carpenter said, the relatively low December harvest might have dramatically affected the overall numbers.
“Providing ample early-season hunting opportunities before bears have entered the den helps to decrease large fluctuations in the total bear harvest,” he added.
Because so many bears began hibernation early, Carpenter didn’t expect any to be killed during January’s Mountaineer Heritage primitive-weapons season. Somewhat to his surprise, four bears were killed — two with bows and two with muzzleloaders.
The top ten bear-producing counties for the 2020 season were Nicholas, 249; Randolph, 241; Webster, 204; Greenbrier, 199; Boone, 192; Pocahontas, 177; Fayette, 172; Logan, 169; McDowell, 168; and Pendleton, 166.