Regulations passed by the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission in June recently received final legislative approval. The new season structure expands the bear zone and the bear chase areas, establishes an archery/crossbow season and increases opportunities for hunting with dogs.
The changes are not reflected in the current print version of the Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide due to the publication’s deadline in late spring. Bear permits are available to residents only; a drawing for the 2013 quota hunt with dogs was held earlier this month.
“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.”
The change that will affect most hunters is the expansion of the bear zone – the area in which a person may hunt bears – from four to 16 counties. Kentucky’s Bear Zone now includes Bell, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Leslie, Letcher, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pike, Pulaski, Wayne and Whitley counties.
Another change for this year is the creation of a separate archery/crossbow season. This 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. The season will close if the limit is reached.
Successful archery and crossbow hunters must telecheck their bears by 8 p.m. on the day of harvest. Hunters also must call the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources within 24 hours to arrange for an employee to check the bear.
“A physical check of all harvested bears is required so that we may provide a harvest tag and collect valuable biological information from each animal taken,” Dobey said. “These data allow us to document sex, weight, age, and reproductive condition. We also can determine if we have handled a bear before by the presence of tags.”
Dates for the existing modern gun season remain unchanged. Hunters during this season may use modern firearms, muzzleloaders, bows or crossbows. This year’s hunt will take place Dec. 14–16 and remain open until a quota of 10 bears or 5 female bears is reached, whichever limit hunters reach first. All bear seasons are closed the day after a quota is met.
Hunters in the gun season must bring bears to a department-operated check station upon retrieval to be issued a harvest tag. Unless license exempt, any person participating in the archery/crossbow or modern gun season for bears must be in possession of a hunting license and bear permit.
Hunting permits for the modern gun and archery/crossbow seasons are available over the counter or online. These are not quota hunts. A hunter may use one permit for either season; a hunter may not take more than one bear a year.
During July and August, residents may obtain a permit that allows them to only chase bears with dogs. 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.
Houndsmen will also 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 located east of Fishtrap Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Pike County, located in Kentucky 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 is comprised entirely of public land and encompasses approximately 45,000 acres in Bell County.
From Aug. 1-31, bear chase areas are open as a chase-only season in which houndsmen may pursue bears with dogs without the intent to kill. Unless license exempt, a person must be in possession of a valid hunting license and bear chase permit to participate in the chase-only season.
This winter will also 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. 23-27, or until the annual quota of five bears is reached.
Participants must apply in September for this hunt. The application is open only to Kentucky residents with a valid bear chase permit; up to five people can apply as a hunting party.
All members of a party drawn for a quota hunt with dogs must buy a bear permit before participating. Two additional youths can join the hunting party for a total of up to seven people; youths do not need a bear chase permit, but are required to obtain a bear permit if they are 12 years of age or older.
The chase-only season and bear quota hunt with dogs are each restricted to bear chase areas; individual parties may not have more than eight dogs.
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 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.”