BECKLEY, W.Va. — Monday will mark the opening day of the traditional bear hunting season in West Virginia. It’s a season specifically set late in the fall to enable black bears which are bred with cubs to be safety in the den and out of the way of hunters and their hounds.

“That’s exactly why it was set that way,” said Colin Carpenter, Bear Project Leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. “Over the course of 30 or 40 years it has done a very good job of increasing that bear population.”

Bear numbers in West Virginia have become so robust, the season has been increasingly liberalized to enable more bear hunting. Three weeks of early season were specifically aimed at population reductions–since at that time all bears were available including the pregnant females. Deer hunters for the two week buck season in many select counties have also had the chance to take a bear as well, which is another effort to reduce those numbers in some parts of the state.

“Early seasons are generally not impacted by food sources, so the early seasons went about as expected. The one that has fluctuated over the years has been the buck season,” said Carpenter. “So for right now in the second week of buck season we’re seeing an excellent kill during the buck season.”

The archery hunting for the black bear has been off considerably, but that was expected in a strong mast year according to Carpenter.

Abundant mast and excellent weather in recent weeks have houndsmen hopeful. Carpenter says if the present weather holds, it’s likely to be a banner year for bear hunters.

“The availability of food sources is typically the factor, but so far we’ve had two factor–a lot of food and excellent weather,” he said. “Based on previous years in similar conditions, I’m estimating about a thousand bears, but weather is always a wild card. Fairly deep snows in late September can shut the season down. Not only will it pub bears to den, but it can limit access for hunters and that could keep bears from getting harvested.”

However, for now, the December forecast looks promising at least for the first week or two.

Although the season is open in other counties, the bulk of the bears which are taken in December are those in the high mountain counties. Carpenter suspects that’s because it’s where the bulk of the state’s housemen reside.

The black bear season will close December 31.