BECKLEY, W.Va. –– The first of three early black bear hunting seasons opens this weekend and stretches for the first time for a full week. Hunters in Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, and McDowell County will get a pair of weekends to hunt what biologists say is a healthy number of bears in the southern West Virginia coalfields.

“This is the first year we added another weekend and a full week to the season,” said Division of Natural Resources Bear Project Leader Colin Carpenter. “The idea was if folks are busy with family obligations during the Labor Day weekend, we’ll give them another weekend to hunt.”

The early seasons are aimed at giving bear hunters who like to run dogs an opportunity to hunt in other parts of West Virginia. The early seasons include this coming week in the four coalfield counties. A second early season will September 22-28th in the traditional mountain counties, and a third early season will run October 6-12 in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, and Raleigh Counties.

“When we first conceived this season we weren’t sure how it was going to go. It’s our fourth year of this early September season. It’s early in the year and still very warm, so we wanted to gauge it and see how it would go,” said Carpenter. “But it’s been popular, so we’ve continued it.”

Carpenter said the bears in southern West Virginia are abundant and they have liberalized the season with a need to reduce the numbers. The most effective way is to make the season attractive to houndsmen, according to Carpenter. However, most of those who like to chase bear with dogs don’t live in those southern counties.

“It’s geared toward our houndsmen to try and get them to travel into the southern counties and kill some bears,” said Carpenter. “We’ve tried to provide them with as much opportunity as we can.”

The season is also proving to be an attractive option from out of state bear hunters.

“Being as far south as we are, we’re drawing some hunters, both houndsmen and non-houndsmen into the region from Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina,” said Carpenter. “We’re one of the earliest seasons in the mid-Atlantic region and its drawing people from all over.”

The agency has adjusted the early season in recent years. Originally the early hunts were during the first week of November, but those proved to be unpopular, particularly among deer hunters who were trying to hunt the rut at the same time dogs were chasing bears through the mountains. The move into September and early October proved to be more beneficial and will enable some female bears to be harvested as well to reduce bear numbers.

“We have a lot of traditional coon hunters who have switched over to running bears,” said Carpenter. “I have some who tell me they see more bears than coons.”

The traditional black bear season in West Virginia will open in all of those counties December 3-31.

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