On the mooch
Uh-oh. Officials at the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources are warning us not to feed the bears. That usually means they’re getting a lot of nuisance-bear complaints.
This year’s rash of garbage-raiding, house-lurking bruins is no real surprise. Last fall’s absence of nuts and other wild food crops caused bears to go into hibernation while hungry and in relatively poor physical condition. They came out of hibernation as hungry — well, as hungry as bears.
Here’s the DNR release, which explains the all-too-real dangers and disadvantages to giving ol’ Yogi a handout:
Photo by Dale Sparks
Allen Shahan has been actively hunting black bears ever since the first season opened in Preston County over 10 years ago. The Reedsville resident has been a bowhunter for over 20 years. His zeal for this type of hunting took a slightly unexpected turn back in the mid-'90s when the black bear population started to increase in Preston County at a fairly steady clip.
Our bruin population started to take off back in the early 1990s as the bears slowly followed the spine of the Cheat River and worked their way in from Tucker County.
Shahan had initially spotted one particular bear while bowhunting for deer in the fall of 1998. It was in an area known as River Hill, which is just north of Albright. This region is extremely steep, with numerous rock outcroppings. It is relatively inaccessible. In a word, it is excellent bear habitat! When Shahan first saw the bear from his tree stand, he noticed that it was already a good-sized animal in the 275- to 300-pound range.
Over the next couple of gun seasons, he would kill and tag two other decent bears during the short gun season. Shahan and a couple of buddies would utilize a buddy system to hunt these bruins. Following a fresh snowfall when they could cut a fresh set of tracks, they would take turns with one hunter on the track and one or two other hunters flanking one or both sides of the track.
In the interim, Shahan kept hunting the big black bear that he would see from time to time, but never could get close enough for a clean shot.
The last bear they shot using this method led them into a rocky outcropping along the Cheat River where they couldn't get the bear to flush from its protective spot. Shahan ended up crawling in and shooting the bear at point-blank range of 6 to 7 feet! Shahan said that getting the bear out led to some initial moments of heightened anxiety as one might guess in trying to retrieve a 250-pound bear out of rather cramped quarters.
In the interim, Shahan kept hunting the big black bear that he would see from time to time, but never could get close enough for a clean shot. As the seasons rolled past, the bear kept piling on weight. Shahan was starting to wonder whether he would ever get an opportunity at the ever-growing bruin.
In 1999, while walking into his stand late in the afternoon during the second week of the six-week-long season, he spotted the bear within 25 to 30 yards of his stand. At about the same time that Shahan spotted the bear, the bruin winded him and beat a hasty retreat over the ridge. Over the course of the 2000 bow season, he hunted every night but two evenings and only saw the big bear once during that time.
As the 2001 season approached, the sportsman wondered if the big bear had made it through another winter, spring and summer. Just before the opening of the fall bow season, his prayers were answered once again, as he sighted the enormous bruin just a short distance away. The first two days of the season passed with little happening.
Then, on the third evening of the season, Shahan had given some serious thought to possibly climbing out of his stand early because of extremely windy conditions with winds gusting from 30 to 35 mph and the temperature dropping into the low 40s. He decided to try and tough it out till dark, and it was just shortly after committing to staying put that he spotted the big bear about 90 to 100 yards out from his stand and slowly moving in his direction.
The bear was easing its way toward Shahan's position when it stopped behind a treetop, which was 40 yards away from his stand. Allen Shahan realized the wind was in his favor, but he was concerned that the bear had suddenly caught some scent and was testing the thermals. After four or five minutes, the mammoth black bear again started toward him at a deliberate pace.
Shahan picked a spot where he was going to shoot the bear if it continued on its present bearing. As the bear approached, Shahan drew the Easton 2213 back on his Hoyt Extreme to full draw. When the bear reached the spot, Shahan focused on his target spot on the big bruin and released the arrow.
As soon as the Rocky Mountain three-blade broadhead hit the bear, quartering through from in behind the left shoulder, the massive bear let out a deep resonating growl and took off down over the mountainside like a runaway coal truck. Shahan listened intently as the bear went out of sight. After all the initial commotion settled down, he heard something sliding down the hill and then coming to an abrupt stop.
After lowering his bow down from his stand, then climbing down, Shahan nocked another arrow and went to where the bear had been. There wasn't any blood at first, but he could easily make out the bear's escape route. As the hunter broke the crest of the ridge, he could see a log road that cut along the hill below his stand. Dropping down on the skid road, he picked up where the bear had momentarily stopped at the edge of the road.
Shahan picked a spot where he was going to shoot the bear if it continued on its present bearing. As the bear approached, Shahan drew the Easton 2213 back on his Hoyt Extreme to full draw.
Peering over the edge, his concern turned to elation as he spotted the bear piled up on the uphill side of a sugar maple. The bear had come careening down the hillside, crossed the log road and then rolled another 30 yards down the mountain before coming to a final rest against a tree. After reaching the incredibly large animal, Shahan checked to make certain that all vestiges of life were gone before starting to admire the huge bear, which had tested his skill and nerve over the past four seasons.
The huge bruin ended up tipping the scales at a staggering 475 pounds field dressed, which by most accounts would put the live weight of the bear at between 540 to 560 pounds! The bear measures 7 feet long from the tip of his snout to the end of its tail and was almost 7 feet across once skinned out. It was determined that the monstrous bruin was 7 3/4 years old.
After letting the skull dry for several months, Shahan took it to Jim Evans, a wildlife biologist with the state. Biologist Evans scored the skull. The mammoth bruin's skull ended up scoring 20 9/16 inches Pope and Young (P&Y). The largest bear skull ever scored in West Virginia was 22 8/16 inches P&Y, and that bear was killed in Kanawha County in 1991 by George Murphy and C. Ryan. The bear was No. 2 in the Pope and Young book until just recently when a Wisconsin bear bumped it back to No. 3.
Looking back over the previous four to five seasons, Shahan can attest to the old time-honored axiom of "the spoils of success will come to those who are patient and persistent." Over the course of hunting for this one specific magnificent black bear, Shahan could have written off the chances of getting an opportunity on a great bear of this size, especially as the seasons started to roll by. In the end, though, Shahan's perseverance paid off. The reward is one of the largest black bears ever killed in West Virginia with bow or gun!
The Mountain State's meteoric black bear population expansion continues to dominate this first decade of the New Millennium. While turkeys and deer have had their restoration turns in time, this new growth unquestionably belongs to the bruins.
In testament, West Virginia hunters harvested a record 2,069 black bears during the combined 2008 archery and firearms seasons, according to Chris Ryan, Black Bear Project leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR). The harvest data for the combined seasons in 2008 was 14 percent higher than the previous record of 1,804 established in 2007.
It was also the first time ever that the kill exceeded 2,000. Per Ryan, numerous factors contributed to this record bear harvest.
West Virginia has a tremendous bear population that allows for a variety of different hunting opportunities. The expansion and increase in the bear population has led to the extension of hunting seasons designed to keep counties in line with their management objectives."
To garner this input, I had to roust the bear expert out of seclusion while in the process of writing his doctoral dissertation on the many years of West Virginia black bear research. He goes on to state that, "With the cooperation of hunters, wildlife managers can maintain and/or adjust bear populations to desired management levels by implementing appropriate hunting regulations."
Ryan indicates the same strategy will be applied to this year's hunting opportunities. He is still awaiting the age data from teeth collected from last year's record harvest to make a full prognosis.
The first small tooth, called a premolar just behind the large canine tooth, is used to age the bear (much like a tree is aged by counting its growth rings). However, the bear tooth-aging version is a little more complex and requires the services of a lab for micro-slicing, staining and examination under a microscope.
In fact, when I queried Ryan as to how bear hunters can help with the management of their state animal, he quickly replied that more bear teeth were needed from successful hunters!
Though the tooth process is mandatory in neighboring Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, it is yet voluntary here. The mandatory bear check-in process still applies in West Virginia, and hunters generally do a good job with that long-standing rule.
Successful hunters may forget the tooth part in the excitement of the moment. Bear-hunting party members may just have to remind each other. The tooth extraction directions are plain and simple and are found in the bear section of the regulations pamphlet.
That behind us, we can at least start making some hunting plans! With a fall hunt bear population estimate of 10,000 to 12,000 bruins per Ryan, hunters can now start building up a little enthusiasm.
However, without the full advantage of that age data and in keeping with the management plan, the current setup calls for the removal of several counties from the early September gun hunt and the reduction of the overall bag limit from two bears to one. Both of these rulings were brand-new options last year. The chances for a new record this year would thus be highly unlikely because of these new restrictions.
Biologist Ryan still believes that the population is growing and that adding more counties back into the September mix is quite likely in the future. But don't fret. There will still be plenty of hunting opportunities knocking for an excellent hunt this very year.
Three adults and two juveniles from Braxton County have been arrested and charged with multiple violations of West Virginia wildlife laws in what Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement officers are calling "thrill kill" deer poaching incidents.
In October 2009, DNR conservation officers began finding numbers of dead deer adjacent to several roads in Braxton County. The locations, position of the carcasses and in some cases information supplied by the local citizens led the officers to become suspicious of what might have been written off as deer struck by vehicles. However, upon closer examination of the carcasses, the officers determined that the animals had wounds consistent with being hit by a low velocity projectile that officers later learned were slugs fired from a .410 shotgun.
Officer K.W. Bingaman and Officer D. Duffield began asking questions of nearby residents and increasing patrols in the area. They developed information that a group of poachers was driving these areas, spotlighting the deer and then shooting them with some type of firearm that left a wound inconsistent with either a centerfire rifle or a .22 caliber rimfire, the most common weapons used to poach deer. Most of the killing was occurring in the early hours of darkness.
By late October, the officers got a break in the investigation. Deputy Rob Brady of the Braxton County Sheriff's Department overheard a remark by a juvenile who then showed the deputy a large set of deer antlers and allegedly initially remarked that the deer was "shot the other night" but later changed his story, stating that another individual killed the deer with a bow on Nicholas Run. Deputy Brady passed this information on to Officer Duffield. Additional information from residents revealed that Joshua Samples, Ashley Johnson, Jack Jenkins and a second juvenile were also allegedly involved in the killing of multiple deer.
The conservation officers began a series of interviews that resulted in conflicting stories and a complex tale of many nights of spotlighting deer, shooting at some deer and missing, wounding other deer that ran off to die and killing some deer outright. Of the deer that were killed outright, a very few are alleged to have been taken to the residence of the second juvenile and processed for consumption. Conservative estimates based on the suspects' statements and the evidence was that 30-plus deer may have been killed by this alleged poaching ring during a two month period.
The conservation officers' investigation placed both juveniles in the company of Jack Jenkins on the night of November 8, 2009. On that night they allegedly shot and wounded or killed at least two deer. Court records indicate that Jenkins, who was the suspected shooter, is a convicted felon allegedly prohibited by both state and federal law from possessing a firearm.
Charges have been lodged in Braxton County Court and are pending action. All of the alleged conspirators were from the Sutton and/or Gassaway areas of Braxton County. No hearing dates have been set. Defendants and the criminal charges they face are as follows:
"The skills and tenacity of Officers Bingaman and Duffield, along with the cooperation of concerned citizens and an alert Deputy Brady, resulted in the senseless destruction of the citizen's natural resources being stopped," said Capt. M.A. Waugh of the DNR District 3 office in Elkins. "Anytime wildlife is taken illegally it robs the honest sportsman of the chance to lawfully harvest game and limits the opportunity to introduce a new generation of young people to the outdoor sports. "
All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The black bear monitoring and research project was initiated in 1999 to gather demographic information from bears in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, and Raleigh counties and to learn more about bears captured as a result of nuisance behavior. Bear seasons have been and will continue to be modified based primarily on data collected through this study. A northern study area primarily centered in Randolph and Tucker counties was added in 2004 to reexamine demographic parameters of the bear population from data previously collected in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the primary goals of this project is to identify the best cost effective way for the DNR to effectively manage the bear population. Wildlife managers did an incredible job in both study areas of trapping bears in 2006.
Wildlife managers have handled 579 adult bears 1,118 times on the southern study area since 1999. Bears handled during nuisance complaints were given orange ear tags so that they could be easily identified; whereas, bears caught specifically on research trap lines for the purpose of marking additional bears were tagged with black ear tags. Wildlife managers handled 31 newborn cubs (18M; 10F; 3U) in 11 litters ( = 2.8) during 2006. DNR personnel observed 235 (103M: 105F: 27U) cubs during winter den checks during the study period. Mean total litter size was 2.81 cubs (range 1-5, n = 83). There were 5 litters of 1 cub, 22 litters of 2 cubs, 40 litters of 3 cubs, 14 litters of 4 cubs, and 2 litters of 5 cubs. Ninety-two of 95 (97%) available females produced cubs. Sample sizes differed because managers heard cubs at some dens but did not get a reliable cub count. Wildlife managers also observed 22 yearlings with 9 sows ( = 2.4) during 2006 winter den checks. However, these data must be looked at with extreme caution because it is very difficult for managers to get accurate counts on the number of yearlings present due to the fact that the bears on the southern study are less likely to den. Therefore, these should be considered minimum yearling counts.
In the southern study area, 129 (59M: 70 F) bears were tagged in 2006 or were still wearing their radio transmitters from previous years. One hundred six (40M: 66F) of the 129 bears were in the 4-county study area and considered available for harvest. Most of the additional bears outside of the study area were trapped and relocated as part of normal DNR activities. Age data was not available at press time; however, it is estimated that there were 6 yearlings and 60 2+ year-olds in the female sample within the study area. Thirty-eight females were equipped with working radio transmitters at the start of the 2006 hunting season.
Six of 66 (9%) females and 4 of 40 males (10%) available for direct harvest in the southern study area were reported dead during the 2006 hunting season. Two (2M: 0F) bears were harvested during the bow season, 7 (2M: 5F) during the early November season, and 1 (0M: 1F) during the buck gun season.
There were 26 known deaths of tagged bears during the 2006 hunting season in the southern study area. These known deaths were a combination of bears tagged during the entire study period that have not been previously reported. Sixteen (9M: 7F) bears were harvested during the early November dog season, 5 (4M: 1F) during the bow season, 1 female during the buck gun season, 1 male during the December season, 1 male was killed illegally, and 2 (1M: 1F) were harvested but the hunter did not state specifically what season.
Wildlife managers in Districts 1 and 3 marked 85 (39M: 46F) bears during 2006 to gather demographic data on the bear population in our traditional counties. Seventy-six bears (32M: 44F) were available for harvest inside the study area. Thirty-four female bears were equipped with radio transmitters at the start of hunting season. Two (5%) females and 14 (44%) males available for direct harvest died after October 1. Four (4M: 0F) were harvested by archery hunters, 11 (10M: 1F) were harvested in December, and 1 female died from a vehicle collision. In addition to the 16 known deaths from bears handled in 2006, 4 (3M: 1F) bears handled before 2006 died during archery season and 4 (3M: 1 F) bears handled before 2006 were harvested during the December firearms season.
On the northern study area wildlife managers worked 9 dens with 23 (10M: 13F) newborn cubs ( = 2.5) during 2006. The two year average litter size was 2.4 for both 2005 and 2006 combined. Wildlife managers also worked 2 dens where the bear was too young and 1 den when the sow was too old to have cubs. Managers worked 11 dens with 23 yearlings present ( = 2.09) and one sow that was by herself that might have experienced total litter loss. One additional sow was not accessible to researchers due to her den structure.
In addition to the population monitoring and research project, the DNR has cooperated in a project at Virginia Tech to evaluate the accuracy and effectiveness of reconstructing black bear and white-tailed deer populations from age data. Currently the project is in its final stages and manuscripts have been submitted for publications. In summary, the project demonstrated that Downing age reconstruction is a very effective method of estimating bear populations if a random or complete sample is taken from the harvested population.
The West Virginia Black Bear Monitoring and Research Project graciously accepted 5 donations from private groups during 2006. The West Virginia Outdoor Sportsman, the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association, and 3 anonymous donations by the same person have all provided funds to help us buy additional radio transmitters. Their support of our natural resources and projects help to demonstrate the cooperation between the WVDNR and multiple groups. We thank them for their continued support.
by Christopher W. Ryan
West Virginia hunters harvested a state record 1,708 black bears during the combined archery and firearms seasons (Tables 1 and 2). This represents a 25% increase over the previous record of 1,362 bears in 2002. West Virginia 's black bear harvest has been increasing rapidly during the last 10 years as the black bear has reestablished much of its former range, hunting opportunities have expanded, and populations have increased (Figure 1). In addition, the record harvest combined with the nonseasonal mortalities was a new record of 1,880 known bear deaths in West Virginia (Table 3). An amazing 38 of West Virginia 's 55 counties either had a bear harvested or a reported nonseasonal kill. In addition, for the first time on record every county in districts 2, 3, and 4 had a reported bear kill during the same year.
Numerous reasons accounted for the record bear harvest this year. Unique mast conditions benefited both archery and gun hunters. We recently analyzed data from the past 25 years that showed a correlation between bear harvests and mast conditions. During years of poor hard mast production bears concentrate their movements around available food supplies, making them more vulnerable to archery hunting in October and November. However, during a year with good mast conditions they will remain out of their dens longer, making them more susceptible to gun hunting in December.
The miserable acorn crop this year combined with the bumper hickory and beechnut conditions set the stage for a tremendous bear season. The limited acorn production concentrated bears around specific food sources such as hickory and beech. However, the food supply of hickory and beech was more than enough to keep the bears from denning early, which made for a good gun season also. In addition, we have expanded the bear seasons in numerous counties to keep bear populations in balance with biological and sociological objectives. These special seasons helped to make up the majority of the harvest in some counties.
Bowhunters harvested 772 bears (61%M: 39%F), 6% higher than the record harvest of 729 in 2002. The top five archery counties were Randolph (133), Webster (93), Nicholas (73), Greenbrier (62), and Preston (52).
Firearms hunters harvested 360 bears during the special November seasons held in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Nicholas, and Raleigh counties. Two hundred–fifty eight (52%M: 48%F) bears were harvested during the early November six day dog season. The county breakdown for the early dog season was Nicholas (65), Kanawha (58), Fayette (56), Raleigh (41), and Boone (38). There were 102 (53%M: 47%F) bears harvested during the late November season without dogs in the following order Nicholas (31), Boone (25), Fayette (21), Kanawha (16) and Raleigh (9).
December firearms hunters harvested 570 bears, an increase of 37% over 2002. The top five traditional December counties were Randolph (89), Greenbrier (80), Pocahontas (78), Pendleton (56), and Webster (47).
During a meeting of the West Virginia Bear Hunters Association in Beverley, the organization's membership overwhelmingly voted to oppose the proposed seasons when they are voted upon by the Natural Resources Commission.
"Having our season--the dog season--in September pushes us outside the realm of being effective," said Bear Hunters President Gary Knapp. "It would be like having a buck season in January. The bucks don't have antlers and the hunters wouldn't be very effective."
The organization would like to restore the early bear hunting season in November, the way it was 40-years ago. During the late 1960's the bear season was split with two weeks in early November and two in December. Those were lean times for the black bear. In 1969 only 39-bears were killed and biologists estimated there were fewer than 500 in the state. Researchers theorized moving the bear season into December would help the population rebound by putting pregnant female bears out of the reach of hunters, since data showed they are the first to go into hibernation.
"The West Virginia Bear Hunters suggested to take our November season away from us and put the entire season in December." Knapp explained. "We gave that up voluntarily and we were told if the bear population ever recovered we could have our November season back."
Now in 2010, the bear population has most assuredly recovered. Biologists estimate there are no fewer than 10-thousand bears in
"I don't blame them a bit," said Knapp. "They don't want to give up their prime time for us to get our prime time back."
Knapp says it's clear not everybody will be satisfied, so the Bear Hunters Association has offered an alternative idea. Knapp says they’d like to have the early season during the first week of October, and if more days are needed they'd take them in the last week of September.
The biggest drawback to hunting in the early fall is the heat.
"It's warm in September and contrary to popular belief only one in eight bear chases result in a successful harvest," Knapp explained. "So it's very possibly you could hunt the entire season and never get a bear. The dogs get heated up after one chase and you don't want to put them to work again...so your day is finished."
The December season is problematic as well, especially for those who hunt the mountain counties of
The proposed regulations for 2010 additionally include a bear hunting season without dogs during the two-week firearms season for bucks in Kanawha, Boone, Fayette, and Raleigh County identical to 2009, but private land in Greenbrier and Nicholas Counties have been added to the coinciding seasons list this year. Furthermore, the proposed bag limits are upped as well. Under the proposed regulations, hunters could kill two bears in 2010 provided one of those came from Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, or