The Natural Resources Commission convened this week in Morgantown to finalize the fall hunting regulations. The approved package can now go out for printing and distribution to the hundreds of statewide license agents and be published online. Although deer matters usually dominate the quarterly meetings, the burgeoning black bear population got its turn in the barrel.
It’s no wonder with the bruins at all-time highs and hunters breaking kill records of some sort on an annual basis. However, damage complaints are exceeding the dollar amount of “bear damage” stamp license revenue needed to cover them. No coincidence that just like the record numbers of bears, these damage complaints are just following suit.
In testament, West Virginia hunters bagged a record 2,700 bruins just last year. To put that in perspective, the average annual kill for the decade of the 1980s was just shy of 200! That’s more than a tenfold increase in a generation. The growth curve for bears commencing about with the New Millennium looks like a rocket launch.
In a nutshell, more bear hunters and hunting are needed. And that’s the gist and highlight of this year’s liberal prescription. The most notable change over the prior year is the addition of a suite of 19 counties that a bear can be taken a by limited quota permit during the entire two-week gun buck season (Nov. 25 – Dec. 7). The Commission however reduced this option to private lands only by unanimous action. Reason being, private lands are where the bulk of the damages occur.
Ten other counties will offer bear hunting during the two-week gun buck slot without the limited quota permit. This means that the term “gun season” once traditionally reserved for deer has now evolved into “deer and bear season” with the proper tags over more than half the Mountain State counties. Hunters must carefully check each county for the use of dogs.
Also based on public comment from ardent bear hunters, the Commission extended the proposed three days of September bear hunting to seven days (Sept. 21-27) for a particular group of counties. This was in effort to provide more hunting to control bears that are damaging corn crops around the same time. Deer played second fiddle to the bears at this session while the remaining turkey and small game setups stayed essentially the same.
The ever important deer package however is largely similar to last year but hunters must always check their favorite counties and public hunting areas for any fine tuning. All or parts of every county will offer some measure of antlerless gun deer hunting with the exceptions of course, the bow-hunting only quad of Logan, Mingo, Wyoming and McDowell, which will remain as such.
In other deer matters, the Commission voted to indefinitely table the option to reconsider the early September archery and muzzleloading deer hunts. More than half of the respondents were in opposition. The Commission did likewise for reducing the annual buck limit from three to two, though more than two-thirds of the hunters favored it. In the interim between meetings however, this option had expanded language added that called for significant legislative action. The original plain and simple version to reduce the buck limit from three to two might very well have passed.
Of the hundreds of thousands of anglers and hunters out there, only 450 responded to the annual questionnaire. This one’s for them.