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West Virginia hunters harvested a state record 1,708 black bears during the combined archery and firearms seasons (Tables 1 and 2). This represents a 25% increase over the previous record of 1,362 bears in 2002. West Virginia 's black bear harvest has been increasing rapidly during the last 10 years as the black bear has reestablished much of its former range, hunting opportunities have expanded, and populations have increased (Figure 1). In addition, the record harvest combined with the nonseasonal mortalities was a new record of 1,880 known bear deaths in West Virginia (Table 3). An amazing 38 of West Virginia 's 55 counties either had a bear harvested or a reported nonseasonal kill. In addition, for the first time on record every county in districts 2, 3, and 4 had a reported bear kill during the same year.
Numerous reasons accounted for the record bear harvest this year. Unique mast conditions benefited both archery and gun hunters. We recently analyzed data from the past 25 years that showed a correlation between bear harvests and mast conditions. During years of poor hard mast production bears concentrate their movements around available food supplies, making them more vulnerable to archery hunting in October and November. However, during a year with good mast conditions they will remain out of their dens longer, making them more susceptible to gun hunting in December.
The miserable acorn crop this year combined with the bumper hickory and beechnut conditions set the stage for a tremendous bear season. The limited acorn production concentrated bears around specific food sources such as hickory and beech. However, the food supply of hickory and beech was more than enough to keep the bears from denning early, which made for a good gun season also. In addition, we have expanded the bear seasons in numerous counties to keep bear populations in balance with biological and sociological objectives. These special seasons helped to make up the majority of the harvest in some counties.
Bowhunters harvested 772 bears (61%M: 39%F), 6% higher than the record harvest of 729 in 2002. The top five archery counties were Randolph (133), Webster (93), Nicholas (73), Greenbrier (62), and Preston (52).
Firearms hunters harvested 360 bears during the special November seasons held in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Nicholas, and Raleigh counties. Two hundred–fifty eight (52%M: 48%F) bears were harvested during the early November six day dog season. The county breakdown for the early dog season was Nicholas (65), Kanawha (58), Fayette (56), Raleigh (41), and Boone (38). There were 102 (53%M: 47%F) bears harvested during the late November season without dogs in the following order Nicholas (31), Boone (25), Fayette (21), Kanawha (16) and Raleigh (9).
December firearms hunters harvested 570 bears, an increase of 37% over 2002. The top five traditional December counties were Randolph (89), Greenbrier (80), Pocahontas (78), Pendleton (56), and Webster (47).
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© 2003 West Virginia Division of Natural Resources