This past week, I was joking with one of the game biologists who works out of the Elkins Operation Center. I asked if there was any chance of a typographical error in that bear harvest figure. He quickly replied, "Nope, we have checked and double-checked."
Two weeks ago, I made a brief mention about the bear harvest. This week, we are going to discuss where all of these bears are coming from or where they are being harvested within the state.
On Jan. 16, 2013, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources released the preliminary figures for the 2012 black bear harvest. A total of 2,683 bears were taken from the combined 2012 archery and firearms seasons, according to Colin Carpenter, the Black Bear Project Leader for the DNR. This is 34 percent higher than the 2011 harvest of 2009 and 12 percent above the record harvest of 2,392 set in 2010.
I have said for the past few months the bear seasons have the potential of being a record, but that October snowstorm could have driven many of the bears, in this generalized area of the state, into an early hibernation. However, Randolph County finished third during the firearms season at 163.
The statewide oak mast for 2012 was considerably high than 2011, but the distribution was spotty. Abundant acorns will keep bears active into the winter, which makes them vulnerable to harvest during the concurrent buck-gun and bear seasons, along with the traditional December firearms seasons.
Archery hunters took a total of 746 bears. The top five counties were: Webster (71), Nicholas (67), Randolph (57), Fayette (55), and Preston (51). In counties of local interest, archery hunters took 27 in Barbour, 18 in Grant, 16 in Pendleton, 11 in Pocahontas, 17 in Tucker, and 11 in Upshur.
Gun hunters took a total of 1,937 bears in 2012. Hunters harvested 681 bears during the September season, 266 during the concurrent buck/bear season and 990 during the December season. The top five counties were Pocahontas (183), Pendleton (179), Randolph (163), Webster (151) and Greenbrier (149). Counties of local interest for the black bear gun seasons include: Barbour (15), Grant (96), Tucker (75) and Upshur (11).
I have said several times, I never thought that I would see the day when a hunter could take more than one black bear during a calendar year. This past year, a hunter could take a second bear provided that one was taken in certain counties. Just about all of the counties on that list were in the southern part of the state (south of U.S. Route 60).
When I was growing up in Kanawha County in the 1950s and 60s, the possibility of seeing any bear sign was just about zero. This year, hunters harvested 119 bears in that county.
It was about 1970 when the state's leading bear biologist estimated there might be 500 black bears in West Virginia. Last year's harvest figure was more than five times that figure.
A few years, ago, a black bear was spotted swimming across the Kanawha River near the mouth of the Elk River. This is practically in downtown Charleston. Last fall a lady, who lives on Bruce Street in Elkins, told me she had a black bear in her backyard.
In 2013, the bear harvest could very easily be another record. I will not be one bit surprised if the DNR gets more reports of bears being observed on the Davis and Elkins Campus, or there are reports of bears in the Elkins City Park, or somewhere in South Elkins.