West Virginia’s first early firearm season for black bear ends today, and already state wildlife officials are looking ahead to the next one.
By all accounts, 2020 has been a big year for nuisance bear complaints in the Mountain State. Law enforcement officers and biologists have spent more time than usual investigating complaints and then trapping and relocating offending animals. Bears that continued to cause trouble have had to be destroyed.
Maybe those critters didn’t get the notice when the state’s social-distancing regulations were established.
I jest, of course.
The more likely scenario is there are too many bears in certain parts of the state, and that’s why Division of Natural Resources officials are hoping hunters will eliminate some of that surplus by taking part in the three early firearm seasons during which dogs can be used.
The next season on the list, scheduled for Sept. 19-25, will be the largest of the three. All or parts of 16 counties will be open:
Eastern Barbour, eastern Braxton, southern Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, western Mineral, eastern Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, eastern Upshur and Webster.
Colin Carpenter, the DNR’s bear project leader, expects hunters in those counties to do well.
“The second September season is very popular in that area,” he said. “It’s where the core group of houndsmen and houndwomen are from, so we always anticipate a good harvest.
“Unless we get a solid week or so of rain, the hunters will be out there with their dogs. It’s early enough in the fall that they don’t have to worry about getting snowed in up in the high mountains.”
DNR officials first opened the mountain counties to early season hunting in 2008. The number of counties involved in the hunt depends entirely on the bear population; if there are too many bears in a county, the season stays open there. If the population in a county appears to be in control, that county comes off the list.
“Over the years, we’ve had a number of counties that have been on and off the list,” Carpenter said.
The number of bears killed during the second early season has varied quite a bit from year to year — from a low of about 450 to as many as 600. Weather and mast conditions affect the total, and so does the number of counties on the list.
Based on what he’s seen happen during the early days of the season now open in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties, Carpenter expects a fairly high harvest this year.
“The numbers from the coalfield counties are good so far,” he said. “If that continues into the mountain counties, the kill should be good.”
When the DNR began conducting early bear firearm seasons in the early 2000s, agency officials at first tried to lump all the counties together and adjust harvest levels from county to county by varying the number of days the season was open.
“That turned out to be really confusing,” Carpenter said. “Now we have three discrete seasons — one in the coalfield counties, one in the mountain counties, and one in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh counties. It’s much simpler now, and hunters seem to prefer it.”