Because of Kentucky’s ever-increasing number of black bears, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has quadrupled the number of counties where bear can be hunted from four to 16. In addition, the state has approved a separate bowhunting season for black bear and increased the opportunities for hunting with dogs.
Dates for the existing modern gun season will be Dec. 14 through 16 and remain open until a quota of 10 bears or five female bears is reached, whichever limit hunters reach first. All bear seasons are closed the day after a quota is met.
However, instead of just four counties in the southeast corner of the state, Kentucky’s Bear Zone now includes Bell, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Leslie, Letcher, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Wayne and Whitley counties.
The separate archery/crossbow season will take place from Nov. 23 through Dec. 1. The quota for this hunt is 10 bears or five female bears, whichever limit hunters reach first.
During July and August, residents may obtain a permit that allows them to only chase bears with dogs. From Aug. 1 through 31, bear chase areas are open as a chase-only season in which houndsmen may pursue bears with dogs without the intent to kill.
This winter also will mark Kentucky’s first separate bear quota hunt with dogs. Previously, this season was only open if the state’s bear quota was not met during the modern gun season. Changes approved this year establish a season that will be held regardless of whether the quota for modern gun season is met.
The bear quota hunt with dogs will take place from Dec. 23 through 27, or until the annual quota of five bears is reached. A person wishing to hunt bears with dogs must have this bear chase permit and then apply for the bear quota hunt with dogs in September. The application is open only to Kentucky residents with a valid bear chase permit; up to five people can apply as a hunting party.
Houndsmen also will have increased opportunities this year as the bear chase areas are expanded to three units encompassing more than 340,000 acres. Chase areas include a new 73,000-acre chase area east of Fishtrap Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Pike County along the Tri-State border with Virginia and West Virginia. The largest chase area includes 222,000 acres spanning portions of Bell, Harlan and Letcher counties. The third chase area comprises public land and encompasses approximately 45,000 acres in Bell County.
The reason for the changes is simple: The number of black bears in southeast Kentucky has increased rapidly in the last two decades after many years in which there were no known black bears in the state.
“The department has intensively studied and monitored our bear population for over a decade,” said Steven Dobey, bear program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Data clearly indicate that bears can sustain an increased harvest and we are excited to offer these opportunities to our sportsmen and sportswomen.”
Hunters are not allowed to take female bears with young or bears weighing less than 75 pounds during any season. Bears may not be hunted over bait or in an area where bait has been present for at least 30 days. All bear hunting activities are prohibited on Hensley-Pine Mountain WMA, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
“Bear hunting is a relatively new pursuit in Kentucky,” Dobey said. “Support from the League of Kentucky Sportsmen, United Bowhunters of Kentucky, Kentucky Bear Hunters Association and the Kentucky Houndsmen Association provided valuable insight into the development of our growing season structure.”
Experience with the state’s two-day bear hunting seasons in the four counties has shown that bagging a trophy bear is a challenge. During the first season, no bears were killed and only one was killed in the second season. More recent hunts have been a bit more successful.
Unlike the state’s new elk hunting season, the bear hunting season is not expected to attract hunters from distant states. In fact, the hunters most anxious to bag a bear are local landowners who consider the bears a nuisance and a threat to their livestock and pets. To them, having fewer bears roaming the hills would be an improvement.