BECKLEY, W.Va. — Despite the heat and the summer time conditions, the first of West Virginia’s early bear hunting seasons will start in the last weekend of August.
The early season for Boone, Fayette, Raleigh, and Kanawha Counties opens Saturday, August 28th and runs through September 6th. Typically that first early season week is in McDowell, Wyoming, Logan, and Mingo Counties. But Colin Carpenter, Bear Project Leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources said on last weekend’s West Virginia Outdoors, they’ve made a shift in timing this year specifically to try and increase the harvest in those four counties.
“The reason we flip flopped is because we’re trying to reduce the bear population in Raleigh, Boone, Fayette, and Kanawha. We had a soft mast failure last year in those counties and that really let us know that our bear population in those counties is far higher than it needs to be,” Carpenter explained.
The lack of soft mast increased complaints about bears for the year.
The season in Boone, Fayette, Raleigh, and Kanawha Counties will also reopen for a couple of days in October. Carpenter admitted staging the early season in that time frame starts to interfere with archery hunting for deer and creates a conflict the DNR would rather avoid.
“We have gotten some complaints that this may interfere with bow hunting. What I can tell folks is that this is not designed to be a long term thing. We will reevaluate it after this season and you will probably not see that October-November time frame next year.,” he explained.
The conflicts with bow hunting–specifically during the rut–is a huge issue especially in Logan, Mingo, McDowell, and Wyoming Counties where deer hunting is confined exclusively to archery. That’s why typically those counties were the first to have an early hunting season–and Carpenter said it will still be done before the rut.
“They have a split season as well. They come in on September 11th and run through the 17th and then back in on October 2nd through the 8th. The latest they have dogs running is the 8th,” Carpenter said.
The other early season will be in the traditional mountain counties. Their early season will be September 18th through the 24th–which is the same week those counties have had for an early season for many years. The mountain counties additionally will get three extra days of hunting October 18-20.
The idea of the early bear season is to specifically reduce the numbers of bears where they’ve grown more numerous than the land can support or people can tolerate.
“The way we grew our population was to limit adult, female mortality. Back in 1979, we switched the primary bear season from November to December. That allowed those pregnant females to be in the den by the time the season started.” he explained.
The change worked perfect and enabled West Virginia’s bear population to grow. The early hunting season simply reverses the plan and makes more females available to hunters to reduce population.