West Virginia's black bear population is probably higher now than what it was a century ago. Bear sightings are being reported in just about all of the state's 55 counties. I know of two different bear sightings that were practically in downtown Charleston a few years ago. A couple of years ago, there were two sightings in Elkins on the Davis & Elkins College campus. Friends of mine saw a bear in their backyard close to Highland Park area last September.
The statewide squirrel season will open next Saturday. The possibility of seeing a black bear, while not only squirrel hunting, but any type of hunting this fall, will be better than any year in the past.
With this in mind, all gun and bow hunters need to know a few things about Ursus Americanus (old blackie). The West Virginia black bear does not have a reputation for being aggressive or attacking people. For the most part, they are very shy and timid. They do not like being close to people.
In all my years as a healthcare professional, I have never seen or know of a person coming into an emergency room in this area after being mauled by a black bear. I also spoke with a retired West Virginia Division of Natural Resources game biologist who knows of no bear attacks in this region.
The few bears I have seen in the woods were very eager to get away from me. About three years ago when I was squirrel hunting on opening day, I started hearing a lot of commotion about 45 minutes before dark in what looked like a wild black cherry tree. Suddenly, a bear came down the tree trunk and ran downhill away from me. Chances are, the bear winded me and wanted to get away fast.
Attacks from black bears are extremely rare. I think a person would be more likely to be injured by a buck deer coming at them antlers first or one of the wild boars in the southern part of the state.
The WVDNR is going to have an early black bear gun season in 16 select counties starting Sept. 21 and running through Sept. 27.
During this special early hunt, bears may be hunted with or without dogs.
Randolph County is included in this list.
Other counties on this list include: Barbour (east of Route 92), Grant, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Tucker, Upshur (east of Route 20) and Webster. If a successful hunter takes a bear during this early hunt, they may take a second bear only in one of the southern counties in the state (Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Mingo, Raleigh, and Wyoming).
The counties mentioned above will have an early bear season running from Oct. 7 -11. The December bear season for these counties is Dec. 9-31.
If anyone is outdoors and enjoying the woods or forests in this area and suddenly walks upon a black bear, they need to keep a few things in mind. First, don't run away quickly or act frightened. Black bears are capable of running up to 35 miles per hour. This is faster than any human can run. They will sense that you are afraid and may try to take advantage of you.
Better than 99 percent of the time, black bears try to avoid humans. If you do come upon one at close range (almost like nose to nose), try to stay calm. Back away slowly watching the bear to make sure the bear is not following you. Do not approach the bear to get a better look. They are powerful and potentially dangerous animals. If the bear stands up on its hind legs and grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it's really not being aggressive. This is its way of getting a better look or smell of something that has suddenly got its attention.
If someone is hunting and the bear does suddenly attack with its head down, then the hunter has no choice but shoot to kill. If using a rifle or shotgun, aim for the head and keep firing until the animal is dead. Never fire a warning shot. Stop hunting and notify the DNR at once.
People have successfully defended themselves against black bears using many things like knives, clubs, backpacks, rocks, water bottles, even their hands and feet.
I remember reading an outdoors magazine several years ago when a logger in Alaska killed a Kodiak bear with a chainsaw when the bear was getting ready to grab him.