During the 2018-19 bear hunting seasons, 2,715 bears were harvested in Virginia, which represents the second highest harvest of bears ever in Virginia.
The 3-day early firearms season, archery and youth/apprentice harvests increased over the 2017-18 seasons by 7 percent, 64 percent and 40 percent, respectively. The muzzleloader and firearms harvest both decreased from last season, 28 percent and 29 percent, respectively. Hound hunters made up the majority of the firearms harvest (72 percent) and youth/apprentice harvest (84 percent) while hunters who were not using hounds harvested the majority of bears in the 3-day early firearms season (60 percent).
Although 33,115 bear licenses were purchased, license-exempt hunters accounted for nearly 25 percent of the harvest. Successful non-resident hunters came from 25 states and accounted for 8 percent of the total harvest.
The 2018-19 bear harvest decreased 5 percent from last year’s record harvest, but was nearly 14 percent higher than the 5-year average during 2012- 2016, just before significant season changes were made to help address human-bear conflicts and bring about measured population reductions in areas primarily west of the Blue Ridge.
The 3-day early firearms season prior to the archery season increased bear mortality and the overall statewide bear harvest for the last two years. As anticipated, the female harvest composition was higher for the early firearms season (51 percent) than for the remaining bear hunting seasons, with the exception of the youth/apprentice weekend.
It will take several more years to determine the ultimate population impact of the additional 3-day early firearms season because of variation year-to-year in hunter success and environmental factors. Spotty or localized food (mast) availability, as occurred this past fall in western Virginia, often lead to higher hunter success in the earlier seasons and lower success in the later seasons.
The early 3-day firearms bear season continued to generate additional interest and recreational opportunities for new and non-traditional bear hunters. While many hound hunters took advantage of the early season, the success of other hunters confirmed the expanded interest by all hunters during the second year of this unique bear hunting opportunity.
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 killed in the regulated bear hunting seasons.
–Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries