CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia sportsmen are accustomed to having a buck-or-doe option during the state's firearm season for bucks. This year they'll have a buck-bear option as well.
A change in the state's bear-hunting regulations will allow specially permitted hunters in 19 counties to shoot a bear if one happens to wander within range. Colin Carpenter, black-bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources, expects the change to have a significant effect on the number of bruins killed this year.
"We figure opening up those counties during the buck season will add 300 to 700 bears to the harvest total," Carpenter said.
Wildlife officials made sure hunters wouldn't kill too many bears by limiting the number of buck-bear licenses, and by restricting all bear-buck hunting to private lands. Interested hunters were required to apply for the permits by Aug. 19, and the permits were issued during the first week of October.
The 19 new counties include Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Lewis, Mercer, Mineral, Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur and Webster.
Because this is the first season with a bear-buck option in those counties, biologists aren't sure quite what to expect.
"One thing that might throw [our prediction] off is landowner success rate," Carpenter explained. "We restricted the number of permits in each county, but not for landowners. They won't need permits to hunt on their own lands.
"In past seasons, kills by landowners have accounted for about 30 percent of the total harvest, but because this is 'stump hunting' [without dogs], we don't know what the landowner success rate will be. Traditionally, stump hunters have about a 6 percent success rate.