The black bear population in West Virginia has been growing steadily for several years and this year’s harvest is just the proof in the pudding.
Not too many years back it was a real experience to see a black bear roaming the hills and fields of the Mountain State. Anymore, it is nearly common place.
So, too, are the nuisance bears and well known dumpster raiders that seem to pop up in almost every neighborhood throughout the spring and into the summer months. Often these problem bears come and go and don’t stick around long enough to cause any real trouble, but occasionally, they do and have to be dealt with by wildlife officials.
Based on those complaints and bear-human run-ins, it came as no surprise that this year’s harvest was a record setter.
Hunters killed a record 3,195 bruins state wide using a variety of weapons during the combined 2015 hunting seasons. This surpassed the previous record set back in 2012 by almost 500 bears. That is nearly a 17 percent increase over the previous record in just three years.
The harvest wasn’t just increased in one region of the state. Numbers increased across the board to push the record number to new levels. The largest increase was seen in District III which holds the traditional bear stronghold of the mountain counties.
The mountain counties weren’t the only counties with memorable seasons. Boone County flexed its bruin power coming in 9th in the state in terms of total bears harvested. Southern counties held their own with the rest of the state and particularly shined in the bow and crossbow harvest numbers.
The top five counties in terms of bow/crossbow kills were: Nicholas (90), Fayette (86), Wyoming (78), Randolph (74), and Webster (65). Not to be outdone, McDowell, Boone and Logan were all in the top 10 as far as the archery harvest. Our local counties didn’t stop with record archery kills, they added to their totals with a very successful September firearms season as well.
The 2015 season was blessed with an abundance of good weather which not only helped the hunters spend more time in the field, but also put less stress on the animals and allowed them to roam the hills in search of food.
With less than stellar mast production last fall, it required game to search high and low for a viable food source, thus driving up the chances for encounters with hunters and helping boost the success of those who took to the fields after the mighty black bear. However, that same mast crop, or lack thereof, is a double edged sword.
Due to the lack of a readily available food source a lot of black bears went into their dens for the winter well before the December bear season even got started. Just imagine if there had been more food to entice the bears to be active just a while longer, the total harvest numbers could have climbed even higher.
Looking back over the past years and seeing that the top four harvests have been in the last five years should give us a clear indication of where our bear population is going. With a bear population that is peaking, or possibly still rising, it is entirely possible that it won’t be very long before hunters break the 3,200 mark for bear harvests in a single year.
Only time will tell, but if you ever wanted to try your hand at bear hunting, or take a nice bruin for that bear skinned rug, now is the time to be a bear hunter in the Mountain State.
— Roger Wolfe is an outdoor columnist for Civitas Media. He can be reached at [email protected]