Wildlife biologists with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) compiled preliminary figures for the 2020-21 hunting season which shows deer and turkey harvests increased slightly from the 2019-20 season, while the bear harvest was just under the previous year’s record.
According to Dr. Gray Anderson, Wildlife Division Chief, “These robust harvests are not surprising given diverse hunting opportunities and healthy game populations. Possibly the most interesting aspect of this year’s harvest totals are how similar they were to last year’s numbers. Normally, we would anticipate factors such as the weather and distribution of food resources to result in greater annual variation in the harvest figures.”
These harvest data are used to monitor game populations and inform future regulatory decisions.
Hunters reported harvesting 3,464 bears during the 2020–21 bear hunting seasons in Virginia. The 2020–21 bear harvest was approximately 2 percent lower than the previous year’s record harvest; however, as the second highest harvest on record, it was still 24 percent higher than the previous 5-year average during 2015–2019. Female bears composed a higher proportion of the 2020-21 season harvest (47 percent) than the previous year (44 percent). The youth/apprentice weekend, archery season, and muzzleloader season harvests decreased from the previous year by 21 percent, 8 percent, and 18 percent, respectively, while the 3-day early firearms season and regular firearms season harvests increased from the 2019–20 seasons by 9 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
A primary reason for the relatively high bear harvest in 2020-21 was the additional firearms hunting opportunities put in place the previous season to help achieve black bear population objectives and increase recreational opportunities in areas with expanding bear populations. Good weather throughout most of the 2020 season may have contributed to increased bear movements, later denning, and favorable hunting opportunities later in the season. However, poor weather (heavy rain, wind, and fog) during the youth/apprentice weekend certainly hampered hunting success during that specific weekend of the 2020-21 season. It will take a few more years to determine the ultimate bear population impacts of recent firearms season expansions as well as the 3-day early firearms season (established during 2017) because of variation year-to-year in hunter success and environmental factors.
The 2020–21 season was the second season during which hunters could check bears through the DWR electronic harvest reporting systems using their phone, internet, or mobile application. Electronic harvest reporting systems accounted for 68 percent of harvested bears reported during the 2020-21 season, up from 58 percent the previous year. As in previous years, hunters also could report their bear harvest at bear check stations. The quality of harvest data received during the last two 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 57 percent of bears were taken by hunters using hounds during 2020-21. Preliminary season estimates for the proportion of bears harvested by hunters using hounds were as follows: 3-day early firearms season (43 percent), firearms season (60 percent), and youth/apprentice weekend (83 percent).
Virginia continues to provide diverse opportunities for a successful bear hunt. For additional details on black bear management in Virginia, visit www.dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/. Data presented in this summary are preliminary and only include bears killed in the regulated bear hunting seasons.