Weapons check...

Mikayla Jones of H & S Sporting Goods in Princeton unlocks some of the store’s stock of rifles and shotguns. Area hunters flood sporting goods and outdoors stores at the start of rifle season, and this year looks to be no exception.

PRINCETON — In a region where 500-pound black bears are not unheard of, West Virginia wildlife checking stations in 28 counties were ready Monday when limited bear hunting season lasting until Dec. 6 got underway.

Deer hunters were reminded that a concurrent bear season without dogs will occur from Nov. 24 through Dec. 6 in all or parts of 28 counties, Colin Carpenter, Black Bear Project Leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources said.

Seventeen counties in the eastern mountains will be open to concurrent deer and bear hunting on private and public land, and require hunters to have applied for and received a limited bear firearms season permit to participate, or be a resident landowner hunting on their own property, according to DNR officials.

Mercer, Monroe and Summers counties were open to limited bear hunting on private and public land during the buck-gun season along with the counties of Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Lewis, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur and Webster.

The state DNR website maintains lists of wildlife checking stations in each county. Stations contacted by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph had not checked in any bears Monday afternoon; some were not expecting to handle a lot of bears during this season.

“We really haven’t had too many come in this year,” said Clarence Richardson, owner of Buck Horn Taxidermy & Archery near Princeton. “None have been checked in today.”

Last year, Richardson’s station had 30 black bears; so far, he has seen 10 this year. In the past, the station has recorded bears weighing as much as 500 pounds, he said.

This year’s heavy mast crop — the acorns, berries and food available to wild animals — could reduce the number of bears hunters will take. Bears tend to wander less, and cut down the chances of being seen by hunters, Richardson said. Bears and deer, which now have their winter coats, travel less during warm weather like the type that prevailed Monday.

However, hunters still have opportunities to get a black bear, he said. Hunters will have a chance to get a bear when they are permitted to use dogs later this year.

Berkeley, Boone, Fayette, Hampshire, Jefferson, Kanawha, Monongalia, Morgan, Nicholas, Preston and Raleigh counties will be open for concurrent bear hunting during the buck-gun season on both public and private land, DNR officials stated. Hunters in these 11 counties do not need a limited bear firearms season permit to participate. This is an increase from the 10 counties that were open for concurrent bear hunting during the buck-gun season in 2013, DNR officials said.

Bear hunting opportunities continue after the buck-gun season. All or parts of 24 counties will be open for bear hunting with or without hounds Dec. 8-31. In addition, all or parts of 37 counties will be open for bear hunting without hounds Dec. 8-31.

“Counties that will be open for bear hunting during the buck-gun season are above their management objective and need additional bears harvested to achieve their goal,” Carpenter said. “Timing is critical when setting bear hunting seasons, and the concurrent buck-gun bear season will occur when the maximum number of hunters are in the woods.

“The larger-than-average acorn crop of 2014 will mean that bears will be dispersed across the landscape. To be successful, hunters will have to locate active feeding areas because bears won’t have to move long distances to find food. These special seasons offer a unique opportunity for hunters who may have never bear hunted before, to harvest a bear and we hope that they take advantage of this additional chance,” Carpenter added.

People at wildlife checking stations in Mercer County and neighboring Monroe County said hunters generally bring in more deer than bears. Bears are common in both counties.

“We usually check in some. I won’t say a lot, but we check in some,” said an employee at Riffe’s Country Store in Lindside. “We check the bear in, and they (hunters) have to remove a tooth.”

Successful hunters are being encouraged to submit a premolar tooth from each harvested bear. In addition, hunters who harvest a female black bear are encouraged to save the reproductive tract or all the entrails. Hunters can get a bear tooth envelope at all official game checking stations. Hunters with reproductive tracts or entrails should keep them cool or freeze them and contact their nearest DNR District Wildlife Office to arrange pickup. Data obtained from tooth samples and reproductive tracts are used for black bear population monitoring.

Hunters are reminded to purchase a bear damage stamp as well as an appropriate hunting license. Details concerning bear hunting seasons can be found on pages 36-39 of the 2014-2015 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Summary.

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