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Spotty acorn crop could lead to better bear archery season

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Rodney Dangerfield of West Virginia hunting seasons begins Sept. 28.

But because the state's archery season for black bears happens to open on the same day as the archery season for deer, it gets no respect.

Well, maybe a little. After all, over the past 10 years the archery season has accounted for one third of the annual bear harvest.

"The archery kill is important," said Colin Carpenter, bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. "It generally ranges between 400 and 800 animals, and in some years it can make up close to 50 percent of the overall harvest."

That's a bit surprising, especially when one considers the tiny number of bowhunters who head afield with bears at the top of their hit list.

"I don't personally know a lot of archers who target bears," Carpenter said. "Most are taken incidentally to deer hunting."

The factor that most often determines how often bowhunters get the opportunity to kill a bear is food.

DNR officials have developed a reliable tool to forecast how successful bowhunters will be.

If bears have a lot of food available to them, the archery harvest declines. If food is scarce, the archery harvest soars.

The most extreme example of that phenomenon took place in 2009, when West Virginia suffered through the worst mast failure on record. Archers bagged a record 1,035 bears that fall, and the archery kill outstripped the firearm kill for only the second time since 1990.

Biologists are still working on this year's mast report, but Carpenter said acorns - a bear staple - don't appear to be as plentiful this year as they were last year. That should work in bowhunters' favor.

At the same time, though, soft mast items such as cherries and apples seem relatively abundant.

That could work against bowhunters, especially early in the season while those fruits are ripe.

In any event, by midseason most of the soft mast will be gone. Bears that ordinarily would be chowing down on acorns will have to look elsewhere for food.

Chances are they'll gravitate toward corn feeders and bait piles set out by deer hunters. If that happens, this year's bow kill could be substantial.

Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmccoy@wvgazette.com.


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