SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.VA. — West Virginia hunters harvested a record 3,541 black bears during the 2020 archery and firearms seasons, according to preliminary numbers gathered by the state Division of Natural Resources.
The 2020 harvest is more than the previous record of 3,201 black bears taken during the 2015 seasons and a 14 percent increase over the 3,099 bears taken in 2019. West Virginia hunters have taken more than 3,000 black bears in five out of the last six years.
Hunters killed 1,095 bears during the first segment of the 2020 archery/crossbow season (Sept. 26 to Nov. 22). Hunters harvested 569 bears with vertical bows and 526 bears with crossbows. The top five counties were Fayette (76), Nicholas (59), Raleigh (55), Preston (55) and Boone (53).
“We saw increased harvest numbers during the September/October and bow/crossbow seasons and then numbers decreased slightly during the buck-gun and December seasons,” said Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Firearms hunters harvested 2,442 bears in 2020. Hunters took 1,225 bears in September and October (including 38 bears during the concurrent antlerless deer/bear season and 19 during the youth, class Q/QQ, XS season), 470 during the concurrent buck-gun bear season and 747 bears during the traditional December season. Four bears were harvested during the third Mountaineer Heritage Season (two by bow, two by muzzleloader). The top five counties were Nicholas (190), Randolph (185), Webster (168), Pocahontas (152) and Greenbrier (148).
Decreased Mast Production Affected 2020 Black Bear Harvest
Carpenter said hard and soft mast production in 2020 was down 39 percent compared to 2019 and 35 percent below the long-term average, which affects harvest numbers over the course of the black bear hunting seasons.
“Scarce mast yields an increased bow/crossbow harvest and a decreased December firearms harvest,” he said. “So, providing ample early season hunting opportunities before bears have entered the den helps to decrease large fluctuations in the total bear harvest.”
While mast production was down in 2020, Carpenter said a few species produced more than the long-term average. Red oak and black oak was up 27 percent and scarlet oak was up 56 percent. Unfortunately, mast production by red/black oak and scarlet oak could not offset the declines in the other species surveyed. Beech was down 51 percent, hickory decreased 54 percent, white oak dropped 12 percent and chestnut oak was down 17 percent.
The 2020 Mast Survey and Hunting Outlook predicted that 2020 would have a similar bow/crossbow harvest compared to 2019 and an increased firearms harvest over the levels observed in 2019. However, the bow/crossbow, firearms and the overall harvest were much higher than 2019.