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Black bear harvest was down

On Jan. 10, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources released the preliminary figures for the total white-tailed deer and black bear harvests for last year.

In 2016,  Mountain State hunters harvested a total of 112,384 deer from all of the various deer seasons (antlerless, buck gun, archery and crossbow, and muzzleloader) combined. This is down from the 138,493 total harvest in 2015, or 19 percent, and 15 percent below the five-year average of 132,466.

The top five counties in the total deer harvest are as follows: Preston (4,891), Upshur (3,936), Jackson (3,654), Randolph (3,638) and Mason (3,480).

Other counties of local interest include: Barbour (2,572), Grant (1,825), Lewis (3,335), Pendleton (1,951), Pocahontas (1,457), Tucker (1,403) and Webster (1,931).

In 2016, bear hunters harvested 3,012 bears from the bear seasons combined. This is down from the state record of 3,201 that was set last year, or 6 percent. This is still the second-highest black bear harvest on record.

The top five counties are: Randolph (249), Pendleton (214), Nicholas (213), Greenbrier (185) and Pocahontas (184). The counties of local interest include:  Barbour (66), Grant (101), Tucker (128), Upshur (32) and Webster (149).

Last year, the black and red oak acorns increased significantly over the 2015 oak mast and was well above the long-term average. When conditions are like this, bears are more difficult to hunt, particularly for archery and crossbow hunters.

The DNR predicted a slight decrease in the archery bear harvest, and that prediction held true. The 2016 bow/crossbow harvest was 1,012. This is down from 1,091 in 2015, or 7.2 percent. The preliminary harvest for the firearm black bear season was an even 2,000.

Keep in mind, these are only the preliminary figures. They will be official when the WVDNR releases the annual Big Game Bulletin sometime in late February or early March. This is when I plan to give a more comprehensive report on all of the state big game hunting seasons for 2016.

Just about all who go hunting have their opinions as to why the harvest figures are down. I certainly have mine. While the harvest figures are down, so is the number of people who are hunting. This isn’t just my opinion, it is also the opinion of several of the DNR personnel (game biologists, law enforcement, etc.). Older hunters are either leaving this world or retiring from this noble sport, and there are not enough youth hunters coming on to take their place.

I have also noticed that the number of out-of-state hunters has dwindled significantly. The high price of gasoline could be the reason for this decline. Some hunters may not view this as much of a problem, but it does mean less revenue going into the economies of rural communities and towns like Belington, Beverly, Elkins, Huttonsville, Parsons and Valley Bend. People who run small businesses often depend on this revenue to get them through the winter months.

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In spite of the bitter cold and wind we had last week, the wildlife resources section of the WVDNR was able to stock trout in the following lakes and streams during the week of Jan. 3-6: Anthony Creek in Greenbrier County, Gandy Creek in Randolph County, Knapps Creek in Pocahontas County, Laurel Fork in Randolph County, Watoga Lake in Pocahontas County and the Williams River in Pocahontas and Webster counties.

The Williams River will be on the trout stocking schedule this year. However, this road has been gated from the Tea Creek Campground to the Laurel Run Area because of flood damage. Anglers who want to fish this location will have to go in on foot until the damage can be repaired.

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