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Wide expansion of bear hunting proposed for 2013

West Virginia hunters may see even more opportunities to kill a bear this fall in many counties where the opportunity has never existed before.

The DNR made its proposals to for season dates and bag limits on this year’s game seasons to the Natural Resources Commission.   The most aggressive changes were in the area of bear hunting, where 29 counties will have a season for black bear during the buck hunting season.

“About five years ago the process started when we made mass changes to our bear operational plan,” said DNR Biologist Chris Ryan. “We opened up some earlier seasons and those worked real well. The next step in the plan is to propose it during the buck gun season.”

The DNR proposes opening bear season in 19 counties, by drawn permit, to coincide with the two week buck hunting season for deer.   Ryan said the number of permits will depend on the data from the annual Mast Survey for each county.

“Bear is one of our species that is greatly influenced by the mast conditions,”  said Ryan. “If we have very good mast conditions, bears will be out longer.  If we have mast failure, they go to bed sooner–in that case you would want more permits to harvest the number of females you want.”

The 19 counties included in this year’s proposed season area are largely all counties that touch I-79 to the east, with a few exceptions.  Added to that will be 10 counties where the bear season would also coincide with the two week buck season for deer, but hunters would not need a drawn permit.

The proposal also called for the early hunting season for bear with dogs to be moved later in the year.  It’s proposed for October 14, 15, and 16.   Previously the date was in September, which drew heat from houndsmen.   There had always been a reluctance to move the early season because of conflicts with bow hunting, but the proposal represents a change in thinking.

“That’s a request we’ve had from the dog hunters to move that season back when it’s a little cooler for the dogs and for them,” said Ryan. “There’s not that many people in the woods on that Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.”

However, the early season for southern West Virginia would remain a September season.

“We don’t have quite as much dog hunting pressure down there,” said Ryan. “The bag limit is the same as last year, a bag limit of two bears but one much come from Boone, Fayette, Mingo, McDowell, Kanahwa, Logan, Raleigh, or Wyoming Counties.  We’re hoping to get some extra pressure on those counties.”

The proposals now go out for public comment.  The DNR will meet with sportsmen to gauge their feeling on the propsals at the March Sectional meetings.  The Natural Resources Commissoin has the final says on the proposals.

Ryan said biologists are comfortable with increasing the harvest of black bears which are growing exponentially in West Virginia.  Much like the deer management, the killing of females is the best way to control the bear numbers.

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