Hunters reported a record harvest of 3,540 bears during the 2019–2020 bear hunting season in Virginia. The bear harvest increased 30% from the previous year and was 38% higher than the previous 5-year average (see figure below). There was a slight increase in harvested female bears during the 2019–2020 season. Although the youth/apprentice harvest decreased 1% from last season, the 3-day early firearms season, archery, muzzleloader and firearms harvests increased over the previous year by 1%, 13%, 60% and 51%, respectively. 2019-2020 bear harvests by type of season can be found in the table below.
This year’s record bear harvest is likely due to multiple factors, including an increased number of hunters who could take bears and significant regulation changes to increase bear hunting opportunities in eastern and southwestern Virginia. These firearms seasons were expanded to achieve black bear population objectives and address human-bear conflicts.
The number of licensed hunters who could take a bear, increased from 52,084 during the 2018–2019 season to 66,590 during the 2019–2020 season. The majority of those hunters purchased the Sportsman’s Hunting and Fishing license this year. Although there were fewer bear hunting licenses sold during 2019 than the previous year (24,017 vs. 32,406), there were nearly three times as many Sportsman’s licenses sold (37,392 vs. 13,815). Virginia continues to attract non-resident hunters. Successful non-resident hunters came from 30 states and accounted for 8% of the total reported harvest.
The 2019–2020 season was the first opportunity for hunters to check bears through the DGIF electronic checking system using their smart phone, internet, or mobile app. Electronic checking accounted for 58% of harvested bears reported during the season. As in previous years, hunters were also able to check bears at bear check stations. The quality and amount of harvest data received through the electronic reporting system indicated this option is an effective method of data collection.
During the seasons where hounds are a legal option, 67% of hunters reported using hounds to harvest their bear. Hound hunters made up the majority of the firearms harvest (73%) and youth/apprentice harvest (83%). The number of hunters who reported harvesting a bear with the use of hounds during the 3-day early firearms season (51%) was nearly equal to those who did not use hounds (49%).
It will take a few more years to determine the ultimate bear population impact of recent firearms season expansions as well as the 3-day early firearms season because of year-to-year variation in hunter success and environmental factors. Limited or localized acorn crops, as occurred this past fall across much of Virginia, can lead to higher hunter success in the earlier seasons and lower success in the later seasons. However, Virginia experienced mild fall and winter weather during the 2019–20 season, which may have contributed to increased bear movements, later denning, and favorable hunting opportunities later in the season.
Virginia continues to provide diverse opportunities for a successful bear hunt. For additional details on black bear management in Virginia please read the 2012–2021 Black Bear Management Plan. Data presented in this summary are preliminary and only include bears killed in the regulated bear hunting seasons.
Summary of 2019–2020 Black Bear Harvest by Season in Virginia
|Season||Harvest (#)||% Total Harvest||% Females|
|3-Day Early Firearms||429||12.1%||47%|