BECKLEY, W.Va. — The first of what will be three separate early bear seasons in West Virginia gets started this weekend in four southern coalfield counties in West Virginia. The season for bear will open in McDowell, Mingo, Logan, and Wyoming Counties on Saturday. Those four counties allow only archery hunting for whitetail deer, but have a bear population which has grown beyond what the Division of Natural Resources considers acceptable.

Bear Project Leader at DNR Colin Carpenter said the reason for such an early season is to allow hunters with hounds to hopefully put a dent in those numbers. The season has worked in recent years in that regard.

“It was an experimental thing a couple of years ago, but we’ve had really good participation and a strong kill since we started it so it’s something we’ve continued,” said Carpenter.

Carpenter noted the counties have a strong archery kill of bears each year as well.

The season will open August 31 and run through Sunday, September 15th. The three separate early season include a week of hunting in 15 mountain counties, and another week in Kanawha, Boone, Fayette, and Raleigh Counties. Originally when the agency tried to open up all of the southern counties under a single season–they didn’t get the desired results. Carpenter said by splitting them up into three separate seasons and staggering them over September and October, they’ve been able to attract more hunters and not just from here in West Virginia.

“It ended up we weren’t killing enough bears in any of those counties to make it seem like the season was worthwhile. By separating them we greatly increased the harvest in each set of counties. We also try to stagger them out to encourage people to hunt these different areas.” he said.

Carpenter said the early season in the four archery counties has also become a draw for out of state hunters. Houndsmen from Kentucky, Virginia, and as far away as North Carolina have come to West Virginia to take advantage of the opportunity. Open the season on Labor Day weekend lends itself to drawing in those non-resident hunters.

The early seasons are aimed exclusively at reducing the bear population which has grown too large in some places and bears are starting to cause problems. Early seasons give hunters access to females before they go to den. The regular December bear season was deliberately set years ago during the month of December to protect those pregnant females which will be in hibernation by the time hunting season opens.

Hunters will be able to kill two bears in some counties, including most of those in southern West Virginia. Carpenter said that was another way to encourage participation.

“Ten counties have a two bear bag limit. Folks who come down to hunt in these coalfield counties can kill a bear and go home and still have a tag left to kill a bear in their home county. It’s been that way for several years, but a lot of people don’t realize it.” he said.

The early season in 15 of the mountain counties will be September 21-27 and is with or without dogs. The season in Raleigh, Boone, Fayette, and Kanawha County will be October 5-11.