Jul 01 2014
By Al Raychard
Hunting Methods: Still hunting, stalking and hunting with dogs in specific counties. Baiting is prohibited.
Bag Limit: No more than 2 (see regulations for details)
License Availability/Cost: Over the counter and on-line.
Resident Hunting: $19 * Resident Big Game Stamp:$10
Non-Resident Hunting $119 * Non-Resident Bear Permit $162
Resident/Non-Resident Bear Damage Stamp $10
Addition permits are required to hunt national forest lands. See regulations summary for details.
Estimated Bear Population: 8,000-10,000
Range/Hunting Area: Bears may be found statewide. Bears are hunted statewide during archery season. Firearm bear season dates vary by county.
Spring Hunts: no
Legal Weapon: Centerfire rifles .25 caliber or larger, muzzleloaders .38 caliber and larger, pistols .357 and larger, shotguns with single ball and archery gear. Crossbows are not legal except with special permit.
Contacts: West Virginia Department of Natural Resources * (304) 558-2758
Thanks to forest regeneration, research and proper management black bear numbers are on the increase in states along the spine of the Appalachians and nowhere is that more evident than in the Mountain State.
It is estimated less than 500 bear roamed West Virginia’s mountainous landscape in the late 1960s. In 1999 the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources initiated a long-term study in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh Counties in the southern portion of the state to determine age structure, population estimates and other criteria to help better manage the bear population. In 2004 a northern study was added in Randolph, Tucker and parts of Barbour, Grant and Webster Counties. In 2007 23 bears in southern West Virginia were GPS collared that are helping managers better understand female bear patterns in and around active mines in that region, and in 2011 a new bear project was initiated with Pennsylvania and New Jersey to examine bear movements, home range survival and harvest vulnerability of bears living in and around urban areas. WVDNR personal are still collecting premolar teeth from harvested bear annually in using the data to calculate population estimates and mortality rates. Female reproductive tracts are also collected and the data is used to determine breeding ages of female bear, number of cubs produced, age structure of females and reproductive success. Information on how to collect teeth and reproductive tracts will be found on the WVDNR web site and hunters are encouraged by the Department and the West Virginia Bear Hunters Association to participate.
Thanks to those ongoing efforts the WVDNR has been able to develop one of the leading bear programs in the southern Appalachians, get a handle on statewide bear numbers, develop management strategies that have allowed the population to stabilize in desired counties but overall has grown into one of the largest in the region while offering a number of hunting opportunities unparalleled in the south.
Perhaps the best testimony to West Virginia’s bear management plan and continuing research is the current population estimated at between 8,000 and 10,000 animals, present hunting opportunities and recent harvest figures.
As this is written hunting seasons for 2014 have yet to be finalized but few changes are expected from 2013. Hunters will be able to partake of a statewide archery season as well as a gun season, with or without dogs in specific counties. The biggest change proposed for 2014 involves where hunters will be able to hunt bears during buck gun season. Previously hunters were limited to private land but this year private land may be included in at least 17 counties with a special permit. In Nicholas and Preston Counties hunters would also be allowed to kill a bear without a special permit. Bag limits should remain the same, being two bears during the statewide archery season or one during the archery season and one during the gun season providing one is taken in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Mingo, Raleigh or Wyoming Counties.
Hunters should check the 2014-15 Hunting & Trapping Summary for additional details and specifics but in general hunters will be able hunt bears starting in September and ending in late December.
In 2013 hunters killed 2,682 bears during the archery and gun bear seasons. The total was 2-percent less than the record high of 2,735 bears killed in 2012 but is the second-highest total recorded and the fourth straight year the bear harvest topped 2,000 bears. Top counties included Preston, Tucker, Hardy, Pendleton, Nicolas, Pocahontas, Randolph, Webster, Fayette, Greenbrier and Raleigh, each of which produced over 100 bears in 2013. Wyoming and Grant Counties produced at least 90 bears.
Bear hunting success in West Virginia and annual harvest figures are highly dependent on the availability of mast production, in particular acorn, beech and hickory nuts, apple, crabapple and hawthorn. The WVDNR provides an annual “Mast Survey and Hunting Outlook” on their web site that can prove invaluable to hunters when selecting hunting destinations. Areas that have high acorn production will draw bear activity early in the season but will provide less acorn opportunity as the season progresses, forcing hunters to locations where late acorns and other mast might be available. The survey is generally available before the season opener and can viewed on the WVDNR web site under “Hunting.”
One thing hunters will soon discover about West Virginia is for a small state there is plenty of room to hunt. About 1.6 million acres of public land is available in the form of wildlife management areas and national forest, about eight –percent of the total land mass. Monongahela National Forest alone covers more than 920,000 acres, offers prime bear habitat including a long list of core bear counties and plenty of opportunity. West Virginia is also home to small parts of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. As the state nickname implies, nearly all of West Virginia is mountains or rugged. The average elevation is about 1,500 feet, highest of any state east of the Mississippi River and bear hunting, or just scouting prime territory can be physically demanding. Considering all the state has to offer, however, well worth the effort.