Field Notes

Bear season for 2015 is over and West Virginia hunters had another banner year, harvesting a record 3,195 bears. That number is up 34 percent over the 2014 total of 2,385 and 17 percent over the previous record kill of 2,735 in 2012.
If those numbers aren’t enough for you, then read on as we take a closer look at some statistics concerning last fall’s hunt and break them down further.
The legalization of crossbows led to a huge increase in the overall bow harvest from 516 in 2014 to 1,140 in 2015, an increase of 121 percent.
Nicholas County lead the way with 90 kills while Randolph (74) and Webster (65) both made the top five. Twenty-one counties had higher bow harvest totals than Pocahontas with 20, which implies that there should be a lot of opportunity for bow hunters here in the future.
Thirty eight percent (430) of the bow harvest came about from crossbows. The added reach and accuracy is expected to add to their popularity in years to come, and we will probably see those numbers increase. Vertical bow numbers (710) could also drop off as more crossbows hit the field.
The oak mast was down significantly state-wide which may have made bears easier to pattern. If you found a food source, you probably found bears. Apples and hawthorns were abundant last fall and naturally attracted their share of wildlife.
Bears could be found nearly anywhere in the state. In fact, only seven of the 55 counties – mostly in the northern panhandle – didn’t record a bear kill. Expect the harvest to continue to increase in the central part of the state, District VI to the Ohio River, as Richie, Roane, Gilmer and Wirt counties begin to see more bears.
Slightly more than one third of the bear harvest can be chalked up to the archers, but the gun hunters did okay as well with a total of 2,055 trophies.
Over all seasons, Randolph County led the way with 267 bruins taken, followed closely by Nicholas (266), Webster (220), Greenbrier (209), and Pocahontas (191). Pendleton barely missed the top five with 189.
So, Pocahontas ranked in the top five counties overall and third in gun kills (171). However Pocahontas was the only county in our DNR District III that was down from 2014. It wasn’t a lot. Just down five percent from the 201 taken in 2014. Not a significant number by any means.
Truthfully, the bear hunters were probably just worn out from a long, successful season of pursuit and chase. The December weather remained warmer than usual and caused the bruins to stir around longer and be available for hunters.
Many smaller bears were passed over and left for seed stock. Locally, a large sow with four cubs was seen several times in the neighborhood last summer. All this bodes well for the future for bear hunters as the bear population continues to increase. In the 1960s the bear population statewide was somewhere between 300 and 500. Hunters of that day and age would never have dreamed that bear hunting would ever reach the levels we are seeing now.
Dave is a telescope operator at the Green Bank Observatory and can be contacted at

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