FRANKFORT, Ky. Opening day of Kentucky's newest big game season arrives earlier this year.
On Dec. 10, hunters can participate in a two-day quota hunt for black bears in Harlan, Letcher and Pike counties.
"This year the hunt occurs on the second weekend in December, rather than the third weekend as it has since 2009," said Steven Dobey, bear program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "Hopefully this earlier date will avoid overlap with early season snow storms and increase hunter success."
The hunt is open to any Kentucky resident who purchases an over-the-counter bear permit. Unless exempt, a person must also possess a valid Kentucky annual hunting license. This is the third year of a hunting season for bears in the state.
Dobey said past weather conditions played a major role in moving the season forward.
In 2009, a massive snowstorm limited the opportunity to bag a bruin as more than 2 feet of snow fell atop Pine and Black mountains. Likewise, access was limited last year when a snowstorm hit the three-county bear zone just days before the hunt. Despite last year's untimely snowfall, hunters recorded Kentucky’s first successful bear season by taking two male bruins on consecutive days.
Dobey said setting the structure of the bear season is an adaptive process and changes will be necessary to accomplish the desired management goals.
"We hope that by shifting the hunt to an earlier weekend, we will avoid some of the inclement weather, thereby increasing hunter opportunity- while still concentrating harvest on male bears that have not yet denned," Dobey explained.
The quota harvest is limited to 10 bears total or five female bears, whichever limit hunters reach first. Most female bears are already denned at this time of year, which will limit the number of females available for harvest. It is illegal in Kentucky for hunters to shoot any bear inside of a den.
Bear hunters must call Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's general information number at 1-800-858-1549 after 9 p.m. Dec. 10 to check if the harvest quota has been reached. If the quota has not yet been reached, the hunt will continue on Dec. 11 only.
The bag limit is one bear per hunter. Successful hunters must take their bear to one of the check-in stations set up in each of the open counties. Locations are listed at the department's webpage online at fw.ky.gov, or hunters may call 1-800-858-1549 during regular weekday business hours prior to the hunt for check-in station locations. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologists will weigh the bears, take body measurements and biological samples for research, and attach a permanent tag to each harvested animal. Hunters must also Telecheck their bear before leaving the check station.
Hunters may not take female bears with cubs or bears weighing less than 75 pounds. A 75-pound bear is about the same size as an adult Labrador retriever. Baiting is prohibited, including garbage used as bait. Hunters may not shoot a bear feeding at a garbage can or dumpster.
The Hensley-Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is closed to bear hunting, and a 12,500-acre area surrounding the WMA is open only to landowners, their spouses and dependent children hunting on their own property. Those boundaries are clearly delineated in the 2010-11 Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide, available wherever hunting licenses are sold and online at fw.ky.gov.
Hunters may also read about all equipment, licensing, hunter education and youth supervision laws in this guide. Hunter orange clothing is required for all bear hunters regardless of what hunting equipment they use, as the season coincides with late muzzleloader deer season.