CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Deer hunters in West Virginia's mountain counties might soon have another quarry available to them:
State wildlife officials have proposed a regulation that, if approved, would allow properly licensed deer hunters in 19 counties to kill a bear if one should happen by. The Division of Natural Resources' Chris Ryan called the proposal "a drastic change."
"If this regulation is approved as we proposed it, 29 counties - more than 50 percent of the counties in the state - would have buck gun seasons with concurrent bear hunting," Ryan said. "Last year we had just 10. It's quite a difference."
The proposal might not sit well with bear-hunting enthusiasts, who are accustomed to having the bears in those counties pretty much to themselves.
When DNR biologists described the proposal at last Sunday's meeting of the state Natural Resources Commission, one unidentified and obviously irate bear hunter spoke up and accused the agency of "giving the bears to the [expletive] deer hunters."
Ryan said that wasn't the DNR's aim at all, and added that agency officials would prevent deer hunters from killing too many bears by issuing only a limited number of permits within each county.
"Hunters will have to apply for the permits, just as they do for antlerless-deer permits in counties where those are limited," he explained. "The number of permits issued in each county will be based on the number of bears we want to have killed. We want to control the bear population in those counties, but we don't want to [have overkill]."
DNR officials have had trouble controlling populations in those counties because hunters during the traditional December firearm season tend to kill more males than females, mainly because many females have gone into hibernation by then. The proposed deer-bear season would allow hunters to kill bears at a time of year when females are still active.
The 19 counties would include Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Lewis, Mercer, Mineral, Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur and Webster.