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Virginia 2023–2024 Black Bear Harvest

Hunters reported harvesting 2,892 bears during the 2023–24 bear hunting seasons in Virginia (see table below). The 2023–24 bear harvest was approximately 29.6% higher than the previous year’s harvest, and 3.2% lower than the previous five-year average during 2018–2022. Female bears composed 40.9% of the 2023-24 season harvest, similar to the previous year (41.3%). Significant harvest increases during the archery season (73%), and the muzzleloader season (122%) were the main contributors to the overall increase in the 2023–24 statewide bear harvest. The youth/apprentice weekend harvest increased by 42% and the firearms season increased by 9% from the 2022–23 season. See the table below for harvest by season. Even though the three-day early season was closed in numerous northwestern counties in 2023, the bear harvest in the 16 southwestern counties where it remained open increased 105% from the previous season. The majority (66%) of hunters reported their bear harvest using the mobile application, with 25% calling in their harvest by phone, and 9.5% reporting their harvest using the internet.

The increased harvest during 2023 is likely the result of multiple factors. Although the magnitude varied regionally, an increase in bear harvest was observed across all regions of the state, suggesting the influence of a common factor. Acorn abundance during the fall of 2023 was below average across Virginia, with white oak acorns being nearly a complete failure and red oaks below average. With scarce acorn abundance, bears move more in search of food, thus increasing their vulnerability to hunters, especially during the early seasons (e.g., archery). The opposite effect was observed in 2022, when there was an abundant acorn crop and bears were much less vulnerable to hunters. Another factor is the recent firearms season expansion, which created additional harvest opportunity in the southeastern part of the state.

Across all bear seasons, an estimated 43.2% of bears were taken by hunters using hounds. Preliminary season estimates for the proportion of bears harvested by hunters using hounds were as follows: three-day early firearms season (43.9%), firearms season (74.8%), and youth/apprentice weekend (72.3%).

Virginia continues to provide diverse opportunities for a successful bear hunt. For additional details on black bear management in Virginia please visit our bear web page. Data presented in this summary are preliminary and only include bears killed in the regulated bear hunting seasons.

Summary of 2023–2024 Black Bear Harvest by Season in Virginia

Season Harvest (#) % Total Harvest % Females
3-Day Early Firearms 155 5.4% 49.7%
Youth/Apprentice 112 3.9% 46.4%
Archery 728 25.2% 43.1%
Muzzleloader 395 13.7% 45.8%
Firearms 1470 50.8% 37.3%
Unknown (not assigned) 32 1.1% 40.6%
Total 2892 100% 41%

View Black Bear Harvest Data by County

Virginia Statewide Black Bear Harvest: 1928–2023

A graph showing Virginia's black bear harvest from 1928 until 2023