Bruin Destinations

New York Bruins

I like New York, but not the Big Apple, mind you. I make a point of staying away from that concrete jungle. I speak of upstate New York, especially the Catskill and Adirondack regions. Visiting and especially hunting in either area makes the Big Apple and other major population centers in New York seem like a world away, and indeed there are.  

When it comes to bear hunting, it might seem hard to believe but the state has a great deal to offer. In fact, based on personal experience of hunting bears up and down the east coast, I have to say New York offers some of the longest hunting seasons currently available east of the Mississippi and overall some of the best hunting opportunities. But it wasn’t always that way. 

As it was in numerous other states, New York paid a bounty on bears from 1892 to 1895. It was not until 1903 when bears were given protection as a game species. Under that regulatory umbrella, hunting was prohibited during the months of July and August but no restrictions were set until 1923. During these early years, much of central and southern New York was open farmland and poor bear habitat. As a consequence bears retreated to remote forested areas in the Catskills and Adirondacks. In the 1940s and 1950s, abandoned farmland quickly reverted to forests, and thanks to conservative management and several regulations put in place, including prohibiting hunting bears over bait, with hounds, and the trapping of bears, the population started to increase in number and range.  

Today, New York’s bear population numbers are up to an estimated 8,000 animals, the largest it has been since Colonial times, and the primary and transient bear range includes nearly every county in the state north of New York City. Now there is even a bear season in Westchester County. An estimated 50 to 60-percent of that number live in and around the six million acre Adirondack Park in the northern zone, 30 to 36-percent spread across and around the 600,000 acre  Catskills in the southern zone, with the remaining 10 to 15-percent in the western central, western, and eastern regions, including the Tug Hill area, Hudson River Valley, and Southern Tier along the central border with Pennsylvania, all in the southern bear range.  

One of the primary reasons why New York’s bear population is doing so well and is worthy of a hunting destination is the amount of available habitat. The primary and transient bear range in the northern and southern regions of the state combined cover some nearly 29,000 square miles of New York’s 54,555 square mile area, over half the state! Much of the northern range contains large tracts of wild land split between public and private land. The public lands are nearly all within the Adirondack State Forest Preserve that cannot be logged or developed. Much of the private land is owned by private timber companies, some of which is protected from development by conservation easements. Nearly the entire range is mountainous with many areas difficult to access. Much of the zone is hilly with steep ridges, and there are few roads and little human habitation. There are also thousands of lands and ponds, and vast wetlands and the forest offers plenty of hard and soft mast such as beechnut and oaks, blueberries, raspberries, and wild cherry. Therefore, it is prime bear territory.  

The southern bear range roughly extends from the southwest corner of the state easterly along the border with Pennsylvania through south central New York, into the Catskills, south into Orange and Rockingham Counties to the New Jersey border, and then north along the eastern boundary with Massachusetts. Although more developed and populated with humans, it also offers large blocks of public land interspersed with agricultural lands that provide ample cover and food supplies. Along with the Catskill Forest Preserve, the New York Department of Conservation (NYDEC) also manages 780,000 acres of state forest in the southern zone and has easements on an additional 840,000 acres. Needless to say, bears can be found over large areas of New York and there are plenty of places to hunt them. 

As New York’s bear numbers have increased, bears have moved into areas and have become frequently sighted where they were once uncommon. To address the issue, the NYDEC has opened areas of the state previously closed to bear hunting, expanded hunting seasons, and increased hunting opportunities several times in recent years. Many management units in eastern New York were opened to bear hunting and all of upstate New York north of New York City has been opened to bear hunting. An early bear hunting season was also established in the Catskills and western Hudson Valley. Regulations have been put in place allowing junior hunters to take bears as well as deer during the youth firearms hunt. Prior to these changes, the statewide bear harvest reached or exceeded 1,000 just eight times between 1993 and 2010, but between 2011 and 2016 the harvest has exceeded 1,000 every year, with the highest tallies occurring in 2015 (1,715), 2014 (1,628), and 2016 (1,539). In 2022, hunters killed 1,318 bears statewide, 458 in the north and 860 in the south, an increase of 14-percent and 9-percent, respectively.  

Also of note is while the historical average indicates the majority of bears were taken in the northern bear zone, in more recent times data shows nearly twice as many bears have been taken in the southern zone. On a statewide level, while most bears are still being taken during the regular bear season, in the southern zone the bow and early bear seasons have grown in popularity and the number of bears taken has equaled or surpassed the regular season, indicating   the expanded hunting opportunities and new areas opened to bear hunting to help control numbers in the southern regions of the state are working.   

There are, of course, other reasons that make New York an attractive bear hunting option. Hunting licenses are affordable and available over the counter, and hunters can partake of several generous hunting seasons that start early and end late over a three-month period. There is also the opportunity to combine a bear hunt with a whitetail deer or grouse hunt, taking advantage of the best New York has to offer.      


Estimated Bear Population: 6,000-8,000+ 

Bag Limit: One bear per calendar year. Sows with cubs or cubs may not be taken in the southern zone. 

Areas Open to Hunting: All counties north of New York City. 

Spring Season: No 

Fall Season: Yes. Varies by zone.  

Northern Zone-      Regular-Sept.17-Dec.4* 

Bowhunting-Sept. 17-Oct. 21* 

Crossbow-September 12-Oct. 21*                        Muzzleloader-October 15-Oct.21* 


Southern Zone- Early-Sept. 10-Sept. 25* 

Early Bowhunting-Oct. 1-Nov.18* 

Crossbow-Nov.5-Nov.18*  ** 


Late Howhunting-Dec.12-Dec.20* 

Late Muzzleloading-Dec.12-Dec.20* 

Westchester County WMU 3S-Oct.1-Dec.31***  

(Bowhunting Only) 


Baiting Allowed: No. Hunters may carry and use up to 1.5 fluid ounces of scent or lure. Check with the NYDEC or 2017 regulations summary for additional details.   

Hounds Allowed: No 

Popular Hunting Methods: Hunting over natural foods and agricultural crops or spot-and-stalk. 

License Availability/Cost: Over the counter, online, or via telephone. Check with NYDEC for the current price structure. There is no special bear hunting license. To hunt bears during the early and regular season, a ???big-game license is required. To hunt bears during archery and muzzleloader season, a big-game license and respective privilege license are required.  

Legal Weapons: Varies by zone and season. Check with DEC for specific details.  

*Check the NYDEC website for 2023 dates and details. 

**Crossbows may not be used in WMUs 3S, 4J and 8C. 

***Bear hunting in Westchester County is limited to bowhunting only.  

Contacts: New York Department of Environmental Conservation (518) 402-8920 

                  New York State Outdoor Guides Association