Sometimes things happen as predicted.
During West Virginia’s recently completed bear season, hunters posted the state’s third-highest kill ever recorded. The harvest closely matched the result predicted by biologists late last summer.
“Every now and then, we get it right,” said Colin Carpenter, bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. “We’re happy with the season and the harvest.”
Hunters bagged 3,099 bears during last fall’s five-part season, a 19 percent increase over the 2,606 killed in 2018. That total missed the all-time record of 3,201, set in 2015, by just 3 percent.
Carpenter saw it coming. By early October, he said the kill would approach 3,000 but would probably fall just short of a record.
He based that forecast on a trio of early firearm season segments held in September and October. During the first, a 16-day hunt in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties, hunters killed 147 bears, the highest total to date for that segment.
During the second, held in 16 traditional “mountain” counties, they killed 570. “That was a significant increase over 2018, when the harvest was down in the 300s,” Carpenter said.
During the third, held in Raleigh, Boone, Fayette and Kanawha counties, the kill came in at 117, up substantially from 2018, when fewer than 100 bears were taken.
Carpenter and his fellow biologists suspected that an abundance of red, black and scarlet oak acorns might adversely affect the archery season, but it didn’t.
Ordinarily, a heavy acorn crop depresses the archery harvest because it scatters bears throughout the woods and makes their feeding behavior difficult to anticipate. That didn’t happen last fall. Carpenter believes that while acorns were abundant in many parts of the state, there were also areas where they were scarce.
In those areas, Carpenter said, bowhunters most likely enjoyed the lion’s share of their success. The total archery kill came in at 966, of which 511 were taken with vertical bows and 455 with crossbows.
Firearm hunting tapered off late in the fall. Hunters killed 499 bears during the concurrent buck-bear segment of the season, down a bit from the 537 taken in 2018. The traditional December segment of the firearm season also showed a decline — from 866 in 2018 down to 753 in 2019.
Carpenter believes the number of kills declined as acorns were consumed and became harder to find. “When acorns dry up, bears usually call it quits and head for their dens to hibernate,” he said.
The addition of the early firearm segments has had a stabilizing effect on bear harvests, Carpenter said.
“It used to be that the biggest determining factor in bear-hunting success was the mast crop,” he explained. “Now, we’re holding firearm seasons early in the fall when mast has less influence. Based on what happened this year, I would anticipate some strong seasons in the future.”