Virginia 2014–2015 Black Bear Harvest

A total of 2,405 bears were harvested in Virginia during the 2014-15 bear hunting seasons. Representing the combined kill from youth/apprentice, archery, muzzleloader, and firearms hunters, the 2014-15 harvest was a 4% increase over last year’s initial reported kill of 2,312 bears and is highest recorded bear harvest to date.

The youth/apprentice day resulted in the harvest of 109 bears which was only one less bear than was taken by youth/apprentice hunters in 2013. Similar to last season, the majority of bears harvested on the youth/apprentice day were west of the Blue Ridge (WBR), with more bears harvested by hound hunting youth and apprentice hunters (62) than still hunters (47).

Mast conditions greatly influence the distribution of harvest among hunting seasons. Years with poor mast production typically result in archery harvests that make up a greater proportion of the total harvest compared to years with good mast production. The fall of 2014 was one of the best years on record for mast production in Virginia compared to 2013, which was one of the worst years for fall mast production. Both the archery harvest (423) and muzzleloader harvest (370) decreased by 40% and 10% respectively while the firearms season harvest(1503) increased by approximately 40% over the 2013 harvest. Therefore, as expected, the early season archery harvest was a much smaller proportion of the total harvest than during the 2013 season and at approximately 18% of the total harvest, was well within the predicted range of total harvest composition. The average percent of bears killed during archery season in the poorest mast years is 32% of total harvest, while the average percent of bears killed during the archery season in better or good mast years is 19%.

The largest proportion of bears was taken by hound hunters (970 bears, 40% of the total harvest and 65% of the firearms harvest). The next highest proportion was harvested by non-hound hunters during the firearms season (533 bears, 22% of total harvest, 35% of the firearms harvest). Although bears were harvested in 76 counties/cities throughout Virginia, most of the harvest occurred WBR (68%). Almost 64% of the archery harvest and 63% of the muzzleloader harvest were also WBR. Additionally, the great majority of the hound harvest was WBR (77%), while the firearms hunters that did not use dogs had the lowest proportion of bears harvested WBR (57%).The overall percent of females in the harvest was lower than previous years (38%) and unlike all other years, archery hunters harvested the lowest proportion of females.

The first year of Sunday hunting resulted in the harvest of 119 bears or about 5% of the total harvest, the majority of which were taken in the archery season (59), followed by muzzleloader (28) and firearms seasons (32). While Sunday impacts to the harvest were relatively small this year, one year of harvest is not representative of a trend or reflective of future impacts. The impacts of Sunday hunting on the bear harvest will be monitored closely in order to determine impacts to bear populations resulting from these added hunting opportunities.

The Top 10 Bear Counties:

2013 2014
Rockingham 222 Rockingham 180
Augusta 154 Augusta 148
Highland 104 Alleghany 146
Alleghany 100 Bath 132
Page 100 Rockbridge 108
Bath 95 Nelson 107
Rockbridge 83 Highland 107
Botetourt 73 Botetourt 92
Shenandoah 73 Shenandoah 87
Craig 72 Craig 85

2014–2015 Black Bear Harvest

Season/Method Harvest by Season/Method % Female % Total Harvest
Youth/Apprentice Total 109 49% 4.5%
Y/A Hounds* 62 61% 2.5%
Y/A No Hounds* 47 32% 2.0%
Archery Total 423 33% 17.6%
Muzzleloader Total 370 39% 15.4%
Firearms Total 1503 39% 62.5%
Firearms Hounds* 970 37% 40.3%
Firearms No Hounds* 533 42% 22.2%

* Non shaded rows represent hound and non-hound method subset.

Statewide Black Bear Harvest (1970–2014)

Due to its efficacy, tradition, effectiveness, and recreational value, regulated hunting is the primary bear population management option in Virginia. Bear harvest seasons and regulations are structured to meet the goals and objectives in the Black Bear Management Plan. The Black Bear Management Plan provides guidance on appropriate strategies to manage bear populations based on Cultural Carrying Capacity objectives, viability status, and current population trends.