’16 bear harvest close to record
Last week, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources released the Big Game Bulletin for 2016. The harvest figures for last year’s big game animals — black bear, white-tailed deer, wild boar and wild turkey — are now official.
In 2016, state bear hunters harvested 3,012 black bears during the combined 2016 bow, crossbow and firearms seasons. This is down 6 percent from the record harvest of 3,201 set in 2015. The 2016 harvest is the second-highest on record.
The top five counties for the total number of black bears taken in 2016 are as follows: Randolph (249), Pendleton (214), Nicholas (213), Greenbrier (185) and Pocahontas (184).
What this year holds can be anyone’s guess, but the potential for another record bear harvest is definitely there. The weather for the spring and summer, along with the mast conditions, will be crucial factors in this case.
The West Virginia spring gobbler season was started in 1966 on state wildlife management areas. It went statewide in 1968. The 2016 spring gobbler harvest was 10,361. This is up from the 2016 harvest of 9,037, or 14.7 percent.
The fall harvest for wild turkeys in 2016 was 2,066. This is up from the 2015 harvest of 1,140, or 81 percent. This may look good on paper, but keep in mind that last year, all 55 counties in West Virginia had a fall wild turkey season in West Virginia for the first time in recent history. The top five counties were: Nicholas (140), Randolph (116), Preston (105), Upshur (92) and Webster (91).
The West Virginia Wildlife Resources Section and the West Virginia Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation conducts a survey of spring gobblers each year. Just about all of this survey is done by volunteer workers who are wild turkey enthusiasts. These sportsmen and women donate their time and efforts to gathering data to help the DNR manage wild turkeys in the state. Spring gobbler hunters wanting to help are encouraged to contact Tammie Thompson at the Elkins Operations Center by calling 304-637-0245.
The total number of wild boars harvested in 2016 was 46. This is down significantly from the 2015 harvest of 99. The DNR believes that the poor mast conditions in 2015 caused the wild hogs to travel to find food, and then they concentrated around these sources.
Wild boar firearms hunters took 16 boars (11 in Logan County and 5 in Boone County), and archery hunters took 30 (20 in Logan County and 10 in Boone County). Crossbow hunters accounted for six. Raleigh and Wyoming counties had no reported kills.
Wild boars were introduced to West Virginia in 1971 and did well enough for the DNR to establish a hunting season on them in 1979. Only three were harvested in that year. The record is 158, set in 1995. The state game biologists do not believe that hunting contributed to their population decline.
The total white-tailed deer harvest in West Virginia for all of the various seasons combined in 2016 (antlerless, archery, buck gun and muzzleloader) was 112,384. This is down from the 138,493 harvest in 2015, or almost 19 percent. The 2016 total deer harvest was the 29th largest on record in West Virginia.
For the past 71 years (1945 through 2016), a total of 6,246,909 deer have been recorded as legally harvested in West Virginia. Fifty-three percent (3,334,349) of the total recorded deer harvest of the past 71 years has occurred in the last 20 years.
In 2017, the DNR wants to increase the harvest of antlerless deer because of the natural limitations of the number of deer the land can support. For this reason, 51 counties, or portions thereof, will most likely have an antlerless firearm season in some form or another this year.
When the deer natural limits are exceeded, the body weight, reproductive rate, antler development and overall health of the herd will only decline. Senior deer hunters, the DNR and even land-owners need to encourage more people to go white-tailed deer hunting this fall.