West Virginia’s top bear biologist said the next season on the fall hunting calendar should be a good one.
“It’s a time of year when hibernation is still quite a ways off, and all the bears are available,” said Colin Carpenter, bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. “Plus, the season focuses on the mountain counties, where we have a dense bear population. Guys who are running dogs will have no trouble finding bears.”
The season, scheduled for Sept. 21-27, will be open in all or parts of 16 counties: eastern Barbour, eastern Braxton, southern Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, western Mineral, eastern Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, eastern Upshur and Webster.
“Those are the bulk of our traditional mountain counties,” Carpenter said.
The seven-day hunt is, by far, the most widespread of the early seasons in which dogs can be used. The other two are restricted to four counties each: the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 season in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties; and the Oct. 5-11 season in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha and Raleigh counties.
Carpenter said the primary purpose for all the early seasons is to keep bear populations in check.
“We want to get as many hunters participating as possible,” he explained. “We try to separate these early seasons by a week or two so people will take part in as many of them as possible.”
The late-September season should be attractive to hunters, Carpenter said, because they won’t have as many problems with late-summer heat.
“Days can be warm, but up in the mountains the mornings tend to be nice and comfortable,” he continued. “Guys won’t have to worry as much about running their dogs.”
Hunters who choose not to use dogs will need to locate areas where bears are actively feeding.
“Late in September, hard mast will be falling,” Carpenter said. “Hunters should look for places where mast is concentrated, because that will be where the bears are.”
DNR biologists are still compiling the agency’s annual Mast Report and Hunting Outlook, but Carpenter said the preliminary consensus is that mast will be scattered — abundant in some areas and not so abundant in others.
Preliminary observations also indicate that soft-mast crops, such as black cherry, will be relatively abundant in many parts of the state. Carpenter expects bears to hit soft-mast sources hard before moving on to hickory nuts, acorns and other hard-mast items.
“With that in mind, it would pay to find a good food source and to scout and hunt in that area,” he said.
In 14 of the 16 counties, the bag limit for the late-September hunt is one bear of either sex. Hunters in Nicholas and Preston counties may take up to two. State law allows hunters to substitute bows or crossbows for firearms during any of the bear firearm seasons.
As part of an ongoing study of black-bear reproduction in the Mountain State, DNR officials are asking hunters to collect premolar teeth from all bears killed, as well as reproductive tracts from females.
Instructions on how to extract those samples are available in the agency’s 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Regulations booklet, available online at the DNR’s website, www.wvdnr.gov. Hunters may also call DNR district offices for assistance.