Bear hunters came within a baker's dozen of tying the all-time harvest record this past season. Bow, rifle and muzzle loader hunters combined to take a total of 2,312 bears in the 2013-14 season, just slightly less than the highest recorded harvest ever--2,325 taken during the 2009-10 season.
The tally was also an eight percent increase over the previous year's kill of 2,144 bears. Archery hunters took 710 bears (31 percent of the total harvest). Muzzleloader hunters collected 412 bears, or 18 percent of the tally. Hunters using modern firearms bagged 1,080 bears or 47 percent of the total. Hunters with dogs did the best of all, scoring on 58 percent of that modern firearms total.
For the first time ever, there was a special youth and apprentice hunter day, on the last Saturday in September. Those hunters tagged 110 bears, 57 of them with hounds.
Overall, some 43 percent of the harvest consisted of female bears. This is similar to previous years. Since they can be more selective, hound hunters took the smallest number of female bears.
Bears were harvested in 75 counties or cities throughout Virginia, but most of the animals came west of the Blue Ridge, where they thrive in the mountain habitat. This year's total mast failure resulted in more bear movement, and that means archery hunters did particularly well. Their 31 percent of the total kill is about 10 percent higher than the normal archery portion of 19 percent.
The cold weather has kept bears in hibernation, but be forewarned. Any day now you could start seeing bears in your backyard, crossing the road, or sneaking into your shed. Bird feeders will be particularly appealing to the hungry bears. So will dog or farm animal feed left in sheds that are open or unlocked.
Last night I had my first bear visit of the year. He got one bird feeder that I keep wired to a tree to deter raccoons, so that will no longer be left out. (Well actually, he destroyed it, so it won't be replaced is what I mean.)
The best way to avoid trouble with these newly-awakened bears is to keep any food locked in bear-proof containers or in the house where they can't get to it. Bring in your bird feeders every night, if possible so bears don't raid them.
If you do see a bear, don't panic. Stay in or go inside if you are outside. If you're away from the house, yell at the bear and it will likely run away. Don't shoot it. It's illegal. And don't bother calling the game warden or biologists. They'll just tell you to keep any food up and the bear will eventually leave. There's just nowhere left for them to move bears to. Everywhere in the state has them.
A Classic Lure--the Beetle Spin. When Virgil Ward set out to create a new lure back in 1948, he had no intention of marketing his product. Like many other lure inventors, he simply wanted to be able to catch more fish. After tinkering around, he created one of the earliest spinnerbaits--the Beetle Spin.
The modern Beetle Spin has changed little in over 65 years since it was created. The same safety-pin spinner design, small Colorado blade and round jig head are used. Only the body is made of a slightly softer material to give it a livelier action.
This is a classic lure for catching river smallmouths, bluegills, crappies, rockbass, white bass, white perch and other panfish. In larger sizes, it's also great for walleyes, largemouths, pickerel and northern pike. It's become a legend for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that it's so easy to fish. A simple steady retrieve with a Beetle Spin will catch almost any fish that swims.
Tactics: Cast into pools, pockets and eddies in rivers; coves, points, rock piles and wood cover in lakes. Let the Beetle Spin sink near the bottom, watching the line for strikes on the drop. Then retrieve steadily. That's all there is to it. The lure's thumping, fluttering action will do the rest.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.