Hunters reported harvesting 2,232 bears during the 2022–23 bear hunting seasons in Virginia (see figure below). The 2022–23 bear harvest was approximately 25% lower than the harvest the previous year and 29% lower than the previous 5-year average during 2017–2021. A lower proportion of the 2022–23 season harvest consisted of female bears (41%) than the previous year (44%). Significant harvest decreases during the 3-day early firearms season (36%), the archery season (24%), and the muzzleloader season (55%) were the main contributors to the overall decline in the 2022–23 statewide bear harvest. The youth/apprentice weekend harvest decreased by 10% and the firearms season decreased by 17% from the 2021–22 season (see table below).
The bear harvest during the 2022–23 season decreased in both western (30%) and eastern (19%) Virginia compared to the previous season. This decline is the result of several factors. Although the magnitude varied regionally, a decline in bear harvest was observed across all regions of the state, suggesting the influence of a common factor. Acorn abundance during the fall of 2022 was above average across Virginia, and abundant acorn crops enable bears to move less in search of food, thus reducing their vulnerability to hunters. As the Department’s harvest data demonstrates through the past several decades, and again this past season, abundant acorn crops typically result in significant harvest declines during the archery and muzzleloader seasons. In addition, recent firearms season expansions (2017 and 2019) as well as the 3-day early firearms season (established during 2017) were designed to reduce bear populations, especially in western Virginia. As bear populations decline, harvests are expected to decline within subsequent years, so the larger declines in bear harvest in western Virginia were not unexpected. Lastly, the magnitude of harvest declines in the northwestern counties could be related to sarcoptic mange, a skin disease in bears. There is currently no evidence, in Virginia or elsewhere, that the disease limits bear populations over the long term; however, other states have observed cyclic outbreaks of mange that can impact bear populations locally for several years. The Department takes the problem of mange and its potential implications on black bears seriously as it continues to gather reports, conduct investigations, and collaborate with other states to determine long-term solutions and potential impacts on bear populations.
The 2022–23 season was the second during which hunters could only report their bear harvest through the DWR electronic harvest reporting systems using phone, internet, or mobile applications, and the fourth year during which successful bear hunters could report their harvest electronically. The majority (61%) of hunters reported their bear harvest using the mobile application, 28% called in their harvest by phone, and 11% reported their harvest using the internet. The quality of harvest data received during the last three seasons indicate that the electronic reporting system is an effective method of data collection, including submission of teeth for aging bears.
Across all seasons when hounds could be used, an estimated 54% of bears were taken by hunters using hounds during 2022-23. Preliminary season estimates for the proportion of bears harvested by hunters using hounds were as follows: 3-day early firearms season (56%), firearms season (76%), and youth/apprentice weekend (79%).
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 2022–2023 Black Bear Harvest by Season in Virginia
|Season||Harvest (#)||% Total Harvest||% Females|
|3-Day Early Firearms||196||8.8%||48.5%|
|Unknown (not assigned)||3||0.1%||66.7%|