North Carolina Bear Hunters Association

North Carolina Bear Hunters Association

Black Bears

Black Bears In North Carolina

Black bears thrived throughout all of North Carolina in pre-colonial times. However, like mountain lions and wolves, black bears were persecuted by early settlers and populations suffered from detrimental habitat changes. By the early 1900s, black bears were restricted to the most remote mountains and coastal swamps.

Bear Tracks

Resurgence In Population

Unlike cougars and wolves, which never recovered in North Carolina, black bear populations and range have expanded over the last 35 years due in great part to combined government and hunter cooperation. The expansion in bear populations and range is due to changing human attitudes about bears, better laws and enforcement of them, better management by wildlife agencies, the adaptable nature of bears, and the ability of bears to peacefully coexist with people in most circumstances. In 1971, about 4,000 bears occupied approximately 2.5 million acres. In contrast thirty years later in 2001, about 11,000 bears lived on almost 10 million acres. Fast forward to 2013, and now the NCWRC reports that the population is between 15,000 and 20,000 bears, a number that is not substantiated by any current scientific evidence.

North Carolina Hunting

North Carolina has a robust black bear hunting heritage dating back to colonial times. Early colonists relied on bears and their hides to feed and clothe their families. As early as the 1800s, North Carolinians developed strains of hounds used to pursue black bears, and these hounds quickly became world-renowned.

Conservation Then & Now

Beginning in the 1930s, hunters and conservationists pushed for bear hunting regulations and for the creation of a state wildlife resources agency to manage wildlife and enforce wildlife laws. The NCWRC was created in the 1940s, and commission personnel began officially monitoring black bears in the 1960s. In the 1970s, NCWRC, with the help of the NCBHA predecessor bear hunting clubs, began a sanctuary system that has proved to be important for black bears. Sanctuaries allow populations to grow while providing hunting opportunity in surrounding areas. Currently, we have a system of over 500,000 acres of NCWRC-designated black bear sanctuary with hundreds of thousands of additional acres of lands set aside as de facto sanctuary because landowners choose to limit or restrict hunting.

Unique Hunting Culture

North Carolina offers hunters a unique environment for hunting bears, primarily due to a long-standing prohibition against killing bears over bait. This restriction has provided bear hunters with a richer opportunity to hunt bears the way they were in pre-colonial times, with bear hunting parties and hounds. While hunters still take some bears, the vast majority of bear hunters use dogs.

Coastal & Mountain Bear Differences

Due to abundant agricultural crops and more stable food resources, the average weights of coastal bears exceed those of mountain bears each year. For example, during the 2001 – 2002 black bear season, North Carolina produced 53 bears weighing more than 500 pounds on the coast and 8 bears in the 400- to 500-pound range in the mountains. The coastal region continues to develop a reputation for trophy-quality bears. Similar to white-tailed deer, black bears must reach a certain age level to gain the trophy weights sought by many hunters.

The 2020 Hunting Season

Our 2020 bear hunting season was interesting, to say the least!  Hunting during the COVID pandemic was a challenge, but after you got used to it things worked out fine.   Throughout the 2020 hunting season, North Carolina experienced a unique mast crop this fall, because some locations had the most productive season seen in decades with acorns, grapes, and gum berries in abundance. Meanwhile, you could go just a mile down the road and find little mast at all. Apparently, a large part of the reason for this mast production anomaly was the lack of rain we received throughout the summer and fall. As a result of these mast hot spots, bear hunters found unusual concentrations of bears in these areas. Hunters not familiar with bear behavior characteristics in North Carolina might be surprised to discover that bears prefer prime native natural foods over bait (non-processed foods) placed in the environment by hunters. It’s common for a bear that had been frequenting bait stations to simply disappear when native/natural foods ripen/mature, further it’s rare for a bear to return to bait stations after feeding late in the year on native/natural foods site. Consequently, native mast and natural food become critical when hunting in North Carolina. Fortunately, the hunting season started off with a lot of good hunting activity and continued late into the season, despite social distancing and face coverings.