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W.Va.’s 2017 bear harvest topped 3,000

February 6, 2018 GMT

On my hillside farm overlooking the Gauley River, we have a few bears running around. In my small hometown, we have few bears running around.

Perhaps the prior sentences are an understatement depending on your fondness or tiredness of encounters with the large black critters. Either way, our state animal seems to be very fond of my particular neck of West Virginia woods. And apparently, many folks live in an area that bears are fond of too.

There are a lot of opinions about the bear population in certain areas of our state. That is perfectly understandable. Anytime you have a group of people who our passionate about their favorite pastime or sport, opinions are going to be voiced -- good or bad.

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Having said that, no matter what you think or know about the bear population in your home woods you have a choice. Either you hunt them or not. I am not a trained wildlife biologist or a professional wildlife manager, but I am a life-long hunter and understand the importance of hunters and the role they play in the wildlife manager’s toolbox.

And if you happen to be in my neck of the woods and feel so compelled to buy a license and a stamp to hunt bears, by all means please do. Like I stated earlier, there seems to be a few bears running around.

As a hunter and someone who enjoys the process of wildlife conservation in our state, I was eager to read and share this past season’s black bear harvest report from our WVDNR. Hunters in West Virginia harvested 3,160 black bears during the combined 2017 archery and firearms seasons, which is the second highest recorded bear kill in state history.

Because of more abundant mast production in 2017, the DNR expected a decrease in the archery harvest and an increase in the December firearms harvest compared to 2016. While both predictions held true, the harvest count for the 2017 seasons increased 5 percent over the 3,012 bears killed in 2016. This is the third straight year the black bear harvest has topped 3,000.

“Historically, an abundance of mast makes bears harder for archers to target, yet leads to a large December firearms harvest,” said Colin Carpenter, DNR’s Black Bear Project leader. “Mast abundance delays denning and keeps bears available to hunters for both the buck-gun and December firearms seasons.”

Hunters killed 612 bears during the first segment of the 2017 archery season (Sept. 30 – Nov. 19). Hunters harvested 327 bears with vertical bows and 285 with crossbows. The top five counties for archery harvest were Nicholas (53), Randolph (45), Fayette (43), Mercer (38) and Preston (38).

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Firearms hunters harvested 2,548 bears in 2017. Hunters took 623 bears in September and October, 678 during the concurrent buck-gun bear season, and 1,247 during the traditional December season. The top five counties for firearms harvest were Randolph (224), Webster (210), Pocahontas (204), Pendleton (193) and Nicholas (187).

“The addition of early bear seasons and the buck-gun season over the past 10 years has helped decrease the influence of mast crops on total harvest,” Carpenter said.

Chris Ellis of Fayetteville, W.Va., an outdoorsman and Marshall University graduate, is owner of Ellis Communications, a public relations agency serving the outdoor industry. Contact him at chris@elliscom.net.

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