CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- To say that West Virginia's hunters merely "broke" the state bear-kill record would be an understatement.
They smashed it.
Between the opening of the early firearm season last September and the close of the traditional firearm season at the end of December, sportsmen killed 2,683 bears - a full 12 percent more than the previous record 2,392 bruins killed in 2010.
The record-setting harvest didn't surprise wildlife officials, who said before the season began that conditions were ripe for a bumper bear crop.
"Based on mast conditions, the number of available bears and the season structure we had in place, we knew it was going to be a good year," said Chris Ryan, supervisor of game management services for the state Division of Natural Resources.
The heavy snowfall that accompanied late October's "superstorm," Sandy, made biologists question that optimism, especially after radio-collar tracking revealed that some female bears went into hibernation soon after the storm.
"The snow mainly affected bears in the state's higher elevations," Ryan said. "Hunters in the mountain counties reported that they weren't seeing as many bears as they were in the couple of months before the storm."
DNR officials knew the small-scale early hibernation might reduce the traditional firearm-season kill, but couldn't gauge exactly how dramatic the reduction might be.
As things turned out, it wasn't bad at all.
"With the favorable mast conditions and the season structure we'd set up, we figured the December [traditional-season] harvest would top 1,000," Ryan said. "The final total came in just under that, at 990."
The two other firearm seasons lived up to or exceeded biologists' expectations. The September season accounted for a whopping 681 bruins and the concurrent buck/bear season yielded an additional 266.