Bear Season Produces Record Harvests

Kentucky’s first black bear hunt in modern times was held just seven years ago in Harlan, Letcher and Pike counties. Not one hunter harvested a bear.

This year stands as a stark contrast.

The record 45 bears taken by hunters for the year included the largest bear ever harvested in Kentucky in the modern era. Taken on opening day of the modern gun season, it tipped the scales at 500 pounds, smashing the old mark set almost two months earlier during the archery-crossbow season.

“This is a poor mast year, which increases bear movement, but we have a lot more bears and a lot more hunters—and that’s a recipe for success,” said Steve Beam, Wildlife Division director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We have a robust black bear population that is expanding its footprint in the state.”

Black bears were nearly absent from Kentucky for about 150 years because of habitat loss, a lack of protection and other factors. They gradually returned to southeastern Kentucky from surrounding states.

Bears were documented in 41 Kentucky counties last year, up from 11 a decade ago.

“We set very conservative harvest limits to make sure the population is protected, and we are seeing the results with the expanded population,” Beam said.

Interest in hunting bears has grown since the first hunt in 2009. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has sold more than 900 bear permits this year, up from 377 in 2009 and 729 last year.

Kentucky’s bear zone has expanded too, and now includes Bell, Clay, Floyd, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Leslie, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pulaski, Wayne and Whitley counties in addition to Harlan, Letcher and Pike counties.

The modern gun season is one of four bear hunting opportunities offered this year in Kentucky. Hunters harvested 21 bears on the December 12 opener. By comparison, firearms hunters took only 11 just a year ago.

The new state record was harvested on opening day in Harlan County. The old state record wasn’t very old at all. The 465-pound bear was taken in Harlan County during the October 24 opener of the archery-crossbow season. Archery and crossbow hunters took a combined 22 bears on that opening day after taking 10 during their season the previous year.

There were two more opportunities in December. The second half of the bear quota hunt with dogs season was December 19-20. The quota for it was three bears after houndsmen took two during the November portion of the split season. Also, a new youth-only bear hunting opportunity was scheduled December 26-27. The quota for it was five bears.