Managing Black Bear: the Mid-Atlantic’s Apex Predator

• Black Bear Sows Have 1-3 cubs Every Other Year
• Black Bear Males are Bigger than Sows
• Bear Super-Abundance: West Virginia has a 2-Bear Limit

By Joe Byers
Black bears thrive in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia as hunting seasons expand to meet the challenge. New York is not far behind.
An eastern Pennsylvania man watched the big game intently when suddenly his TV set sharply turned. Shaking his head in disbelief, the homeowner walked toward the set when it moved again. Freaked out by the experience, he examined the set cautiously and noticed that the cable cord was stretched taught and surmised that something was under the house. “There’s a bear hibernating down there,” an animal control specialist told him the next day and it’s wrapped around your TV cable. We can call the DNR or wait for it to wake up and move on.”
Black bear encounters have become common for homeowners in Allegheny and Garrett Counties in Maryland, where homeowners must be cautious about garbage containers and any type of food that may attract foraging bears. Bear populations have spread eastward into Washington and Frederick counties and for the first time the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has authorized a bear season to reduce the population.

Managing the Abundance

The Tri-State area abounds with game and by selecting the proper dates, hunters can pursue deer, bear, and wild turkeys at the same time, even hunt multiple states

West Virginia has so many black bears that several counties have a two-bear limit and a long archery and crossbow season that runs from September 26th through November 21st.
Bears have no fear of water and swim the Potomac River as they travel and migrate through the Tri-State area. The Mountain State has huge tracts of public land such as the Monongahela National Forest that are easily accessible and provide a nearly wilderness hunting experience. Beginning October 10th, an archer can pursue wild turkeys, whitetail deer, wild boar, and black bear at the same time and may find them in the same habitat.

Pennsylvania’s DNR relies on hunters to harvest about 25 percent of the state’s black bears annually to keep numbers in check. The recent addition of an archery season allows hunters to hunt deer and bear at the same time, including an early season in designated units that opens September 19th. The Keystone state abounds with public land including 2.2 million acres of big woods and 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands. Even 120 state parks are open for hunting. Pennsylvania’s state-wide archery bear season runs November 16-20.
Maryland doesn’t offer a separate archery bear season, yet bows, crossbows and firearms may be used to hunt bears during the limited season, October 24-27. Since the Free State’s bear population is smaller than bordering states, perspective hunters must apply to a lottery licensing system which limits the number of bears that can annually be taken. One-in-five hunters bagged a bear in 2015, less than a 10 percent harvest of the estimated 1,000 adult bears in Maryland.

Black bear management has been very successful and each year DNR scientists crawl into bear dens, tag cubs, weight and take samples from the sow and then allow everyone to go back to sleep. This information plus data from hunter-harvested bears helps the DNR make informed decisions.

Why Bowhunt Black Bears?

If you saw the bear attack scene in The Revenant, you’d probably question the sanity of anyone choosing to hunt the apex predator with a stick and string. Ironically, an arrow through the lungs of a black bear is almost instantly lethal. I stalked a bear in Quebec with a camera operator one step behind me. After shooting the bruin with an arrow, we reviewed the tape and saw that it made four bounds, crashed, and expired in five seconds.
Black bears have a keen sense of smell and hearing, but relatively poor eyesight, such that wearing camouflage, reducing human scent with ScentBlocker gear, and waiting or stalking near places of feeding activity may allow a bear to wander close to you. Bear scat is easy to see and the bigger the pile, the bigger the bear.
Archery bear hunting in Maryland, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia is much like hunts done by Native Americans centuries ago, a time when human survival depended on bagging game and you may also be able to harvest wild turkeys, whitetail deer, or a black bear. Check the season dates. Falling leaves, cold crisp weather, and the chance to sneak solo through the woods is powerful medicine for a world with technology overload.





Many hunters prefer to hunt deer and bears from tree stands, the difference being that bears can climb trees.

Bear Facts
Black bears are doing well as a species, partially due to scientific management. One Pennsylvania researcher routinely crawled into a bear den with a rectal thermometer to gather data…that’s dedication.

Here’ are a few facts about the bears in the Tri-State region:

• Black bear females have litters of 1-3 cubs, but one sow in Pennsylvania recently had six offspring in a single litter.

• Black bears breed every other year and the mother stays with the cubs 24/7 the first year of life.

• A female black bear has a home range of about 10 miles while a male will roam over 25 square miles. Young bears can travel 150-200 miles searching for a new territory. (Why they show up in cities.)

• Black bears average 125-400 pounds in weight with some males reaching 600 pounds. Typically, males grow larger than females.

• Many bears in our area do not hibernate in dens, but curl up in a brush pile or large pile of leaves. Females hibernate before males.

• Black bears are omnivores and eat plants, berries, hard and soft mast, insects, prey animals such as white tail deer fawns, carrion, and human garbage or food leftovers. Maryland law forbids baiting bears as it lures them into contact with humans.


Tri-State 2016 Bear Seasons at a Glance:





Check current regulations for your hunting state carefully.

Author’s Note: Lifetime resident of Washington County, Joe Byers just published “A Comprehensive Guide to Crossbow Hunting.”  Autographed copies are available, plus a 10% discount by contacting the author directly at