Virginia releases hunting season final data
The Virginia bear and deer harvests reflected an increase from last year and the black bear harvest was the highest ever recorded in Virginia. According to Dr. Gray Anderson, Terrestrial Division Chief, “The annual variation in harvest is normal and most populations are healthy and on-track with long-range management plan objectives.”
These harvest data are used to inform future regulatory decisions.
During the 2017-18 Virginia bear hunting seasons, 2,861 bears were harvested by 32,687 licensed bear hunters. With 1,474 bears harvested, the regular firearms season accounted for most of the harvest, where hound hunters made up the majority (72%) of the firearms harvest.
The archery, muzzleloader, and 3-day early firearms seasons resulted in the harvest of 497,395 and 395 bears, respectively. Another 100 bears were taken during the youth and apprentice bear hunting weekend on October 14-15 (91% by hound hunters). With nonresidents throughout the United States purchasing 1,155 licenses to hunt bears in Virginia, successful out-of-state bear hunters came from 33 different states.
The 2017-18 bear harvest was 17% higher than the highest previous year observed in Virginia during the 2016-17 hunting seasons. Dr. Anderson noted that the increased bear harvest was anticipated given additional bear hunting opportunities designed to help address human-bear conflicts and bring about measured population reductions in areas primarily west of the Blue Ridge.
The new 3-day early firearms season occurring during the week prior to the archery season, added to bear hunting mortality and contributed to an increase in the overall statewide bear harvest. Also as anticipated, the percent female composition of the early-season bear harvest (48%) was higher than during the remaining bear hunting seasons, with the exception of the youth apprentice weekend. Because a number of factors influence the annual bear harvest (including hunter participation and success, environmental factors, and mast production), it will take several years to determine the ultimate population impact of the additional 3-day early firearms season.
Without a concurrent deer season, the early 3-day firearms bear season also encouraged additional opportunities for bear hunting recreation and interest by potentially new and nontraditional bear hunters. While many hound hunters took advantage of the early season, the success of non-hound hunters confirmed the expanded interest by all sportsmen and sportswomen in this unique bear hunting opportunity.
Hound hunters typically harvest the majority of bears during firearms seasons, but non-hound hunters made a welcome contribution to the harvest by actually taking the majority of bears (61%) during this early season. Also possibly due to the availability of the early season, another indication of an increased interest in bear hunting was the rise in bear hunting license sales with nearly 900 more bear licenses sold in 2017 than 2016.
Summing up the new early bear firearms season, DGIF Bear Project Leader Jaime Sajecki said, “One goal was to implement an inclusive season that would specifically generate interest in bear hunting by making it open to all types of hunting. Hunters were given the chance to focus on the unique values and special skills needed to pursue one of Virginia’s most prized game animals. The popularity of the season among hound and still hunters alike was proof that we accomplished this goal.”
For additional details on black bear management in Virginia, please read the 2012-2021 Black Bear Management Plan (www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/). Data presented in this summary are preliminary and only include bears harvested in the regulated bear hunting seasons.