Bear hunters

Bear hunters with hounds prepare to get on the track in Smyth County.

Last week, we took an in-depth look at Virginia’s deer kill numbers for the 2018–19 season, assessing statewide and regional trends, especially related to the seemingly decreasing hunter success rates around the Fredericksburg region.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also released the bear kill totals for the season as well as the fall turkey harvest.

It was a good year to be a bear hunter, with 2,715 bears tagged. While the tally was down 5 percent over last year’s record high number, it still represents the second-best year ever.

Increases were reported in the three-day early firearms (7 percent), archery (64), and youth and apprentice hunter bear kill (40). Most of the bears (72 percent) killed during the general firearms season were taken by hunters using hounds. Hunters who didn’t use hounds took 60 percent of the bears killed in the early, three-day firearms season.

The DGIF created, much to the consternation of would-be bear hunters east of the Blue Ridge, a separate bear license a few years ago. The agency reports 33,115 bear licenses were sold. Still, license-exempt hunters killed nearly 25 percent of all the bears taken. Non-resident hunters from 25 states accounted for 8 percent of the overall totals.

Part of the recent uptick in the bear kill is likely due to season changes, especially the early three-day firearms season, made to address human-bear conflicts in some areas. As with deer, the key to managing a species population is to reduce the number of females. Just more than half of the bears killed during that season. and the youth and apprentice hunter weekend, were sows. Sows made up 36 percent of the total during the general firearms season.

You can see more in the Virginia 2012–21 Black Bear Management Plan,


Fall turkey hunters last year nearly replicated the success of the 2017-2018 season, killing 2,363 birds, just 5 fewer than the year before.

Hunters east of the Blue Ridge were 2 percent less successful, but that drop was made up by a 2 percent increase west of the mountains.

Gary Norman, DGIF’s wild turkey project leader, said fall turkey harvest varied across the state according to the patterns seen in turkey production and mast crops. Areas with good mast crops often see birds dispersed and harder to hunt. When you have an area with a poor acorn crop but good turkey reproduction rates, hunters can usually count on killing more birds. That means more birds concentrated near available food sources.

That scenario was best seen in the Virginia’s North Mountain Region where hunter success was up 16 percent. The toughest hunting was in the South Mountains. Both acorns and birds, due to low production, were scarce.

Norman noted that interest in hunting turkeys during the fall seems to be waning, not only in Virginia but also in other states with fall seasons.

One of the goals in DGIF’s Wild Turkey Management Plan is to reverse the general decline in fall turkey hunting interest, incorporating an October youth and apprentice fall turkey hunting weekend and adding a late January fall season.


The Old Dominion One Shot Turkey Hunt is back for a fifth year, scheduled for April 26–27. The event is coordinated by the DGIF and the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia. This one-day hunt pairs hunters with top-quality guides on premium properties with the opportunity to win prizes and contribute to conservation.

Hunters pay a minimum $1,000 registration fee. Last year’s event raised nearly $50,000. Among the programs helped by the donations are the Virginia Wildlife Grant Program and, at times, land acquisition designed to increase public hunting and outdoor access.

This year’s One Shot has a couple of modifications. There has always been a strong youth and wounded warrior component, but this year will see added opportunities for first responders, such as law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Youngster can also enter an essay contest, with a chance to win one of at least five sponsored slots in this year’s hunt. A parent or guardian must accompany the child during the hunt.

The theme for this year’s essay is “Why are Game Laws Important?” Deadline for entering is March 15. Winners will be notified March 22. Enter online at

The event kicks off April 26 at Bass Pro Shops in Ashland. There, hunters and guides pair up to plan their hunting strategy. They then hunt until noon the next day. Any birds killed are scored using a weight, spur-length and bear-length formula. Festivities conclude that night with a celebration at Bass Pro Shops in Ashland.

The deadline for hunters to register is April 9. Register at People interested in being guides or landowners willing to donate use of their property for a day can also make contact through the event’s web address.

“The One Shot is an opportunity for a broad cross section of Virginians to unite in their passion for hunting turkeys as well as for the outdoors itself,” said Jenny West, executive director of WFV.

“Those involved with the One Shot, whether they be participating hunters, guides, involved landowners or the supporting staff, come together in a unique manner to express their appreciation for Virginia’s wildlife resources. In addition, the efforts of these conservationists are directly contributing to funding that will perpetuate the abundance of wildlife and the expansion of outdoor opportunities in the commonwealth.”

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