Skip to main content

Eastern U.S. Bear Report 2019

With populations at all-time highs across much of the region and expanded seasons in some areas, hunters should find plenty of bears this fall.

Eastern U.S. Bear Report 2019

Black bears are omnivores, and their patterns are often dictated by food sources. In states that do not permit baiting, savvy bear hunters locate the food to find the bears. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Successful bearhunting depends on several factors. Topping the list is the availability of natural forage that keeps bears active and out of the dens longer into the fall. Equally important is the weather.

Several eastern states experienced reduced harvests in 2018 due to heavy rain that kept hunters indoors or early snows that forced bears to den early. But rest assured, for 2019, there are plenty of bears out there for those willing to put in the time and effort.

MAINE

With an estimated population of 35,000, Maine is home to one of the largest bear populations in the Lower 48 and the largest in the East. Bears are apt to be found throughout Maine these days, and hunting is allowed statewide, but Aroostook, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties have been producing the most bears with Somerset, Washington, Franklin and Oxford counties following behind, although not always in this particular order.

Maine allows both baiting and hounding opportunities with hunting over bait producing the most bears each year. The baiting season ran Aug. 26 through Sept. 21, the dog season began Sept. 9 and ends Oct. 26, with the general bear season continuing to the end of November. A big-game hunting license and bear permit is required to hunt here.


NEW HAMPSHIRE

Like Maine, New Hampshire allows both baiting and hounding. The baiting season began Sept. 21 in WMUs H1, H2, I2, K, L and M. This season continued until Sept. 28 in units A, B, C2, D1, G, I1, J1 and J2, and until Oct. 5 in units C1, D2, E and F. Units where hounding is permitted open Sept. 23 and close Nov. 12. The general bear season dates vary by unit, closing Oct. 12, Nov. 12 or Nov. 30.


Bear hunters should scout and hunt the White Mountain and Central Regions of the state. The White Mountain Units include around 800,000 acres of the White Mountain National Forest, while the Central Region to the south is more heavily populated but still offers plenty of large public lands and some prime bear hunting opportunities. The northern region of the state has its share of bears and offers a big woods hunting experience and plenty of public land.

VERMONT

This year the early bear season runs (Sept. 1) through Nov. 15, and the late season Nov. 16-24. Hunters are reminded that a special bear tag, which costs $15 for residents and $35 for nonresidents, is required to hunt the early season. However, a bear tag is included at noextra cost with a big-game license for the late season.

Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

While bear hunting is generally good over much of Vermont, the top bear hunting counties in recent years have been in the lower elevations down along the spine of the Green Mountains including WMUs H and J1. Units along the east edge of the Greens offering agricultural lands abutting the national forest have also been very productive, in particular WMUs H, J1 and J2. In the Northeast Kingdom Region WMU D1 has been a leader in producing bears and should be again this fall. In the southern part of the state, WMUs N and P, both in the southwest corner have less public land but offer excellent potential.


MASSACHUSETTS

Massachusetts is now home to between 4,500 to 5,000 bears, an increase of nine fold since the 1980s, and it’s increasing by about 8 percent annually. The top bear counties in Massachusetts have always been in the western region.

Typically, the rolling hills in Berkshire County tops the list with Franklin County second if not first some years. Hampden, Hampshire, Worcester and Middlesex counties generally follow in that order. Berkshire County west of the Connecticut River is home to some of the largest state forests and wildlife management areas as well as some of the largest agricultural lands in the commonwealth. Franklin County also offers some large public properties, especially close to the border with Vermont where bear numbers and harvest figures have been on the rise.

This year the three-part bear season in Massachusetts began Sept. 3-21 and continues Nov. 4-23 and Dec. 2-14.


EasternBears
Although color-phase bears are more common in the West, several are taken each year by fortunate hunters in eastern states. (Photo by Laura Kovarik)

NEW YORK

The Empire State is currently home to an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 black bears in areas open to hunting, and that number is growing. In recent years, hunting opportunities have been increased, and some areas previously closed have been opened to bear hunting.

Since introduced a few years ago, the early hunting season in the northern zone has become increasingly popular and has contributed to the largest percentage of annual harvest, undoubtedly due to more favorable weather conditions and better odds of bears being active. Top bear-producing units included 5H, 6C, 6F and 6J.

Find the best day and time to hunt in your zip code

In the southern zone, more bears have been taken during the regular season that overlaps part of deer season, which draws more hunters afield. The bow season and early season typically come in second and third, respectively. Top units include 3A, 3C, 3K and 3M, all in the Catskill region. Each of these units in the north and south regions should do well again this fall.

Click here for New York bear season dates.

PENNSYLVANIA

With a statewide bear population estimated at 20,000, the Keystone State has more bear hunting opportunities now than at any other time in modern history. Still, hunters are not taking enough bears to meet management goals, a total of just 6,500 in the past two years.

What Pennsylvania may lack in lengthy hunting seasons, it clearly makes up for in big bears. The state is known for producing some of the largest bears in the East each year. In 2018, 70 bears tipped the scales at more than 500 pounds (dressed weight), including 20 animals that weighed more than 600 pounds. The largest weighed in at 780 pounds and was harvested in Forest County. A 708-pounder was harvested in Luzerne County, and one weighing 704 pounds was taken in Clearfield County. Big bears are scattered throughout the northern half of the state.

Bears are generally taken across the state, but the north-central and northeast counties produce the most bears. Tioga County in the north-central region and Pike County in the northeast generally top their respective regions. Elsewhere, Venango County in the northwest, Somerset County in the southwest and Huntingdon County in the south-central region also produce their fair share. Fortunately, each of these counties offers plenty of State Game Lands and state forests open to public hunting.

Click here for Pennsylvania bear season dates.

MARYLAND

The first modern bear hunt in Maryland took place back in 2004 in Allegany and Garrett counties. The current population is estimated at 2,000-2,500 adult bears. Bears have continued to expand their range, and hunting has been allowed in Frederick and Washington counties since 2016.

Bear hunting is highly controlled in The Old Line State, with bear permits issued through an annual lottery. The application period generally opens the third Monday in July and ends Aug. 31. In 2017, 750 permits were issued, but the number was increased to 800 in 2018 and should remain the same this year. The season runs Oct. 21-25.

WEST VIRGINIA

The Mountain State might not cover many square miles, but it has lots of bears, in the neighborhood of 10,000-12,000. Hunting seasons have gradually been increased in recent years, including several early opportunities.

Hunting with or without dogs is allowed during these early seasons, and each of these counties are also open during the traditional statewide season the entire month of December. Firearm opportunities are also available without dogs in a host of counties in October and November. There is also a statewide archery and crossbow season that runs from late September straight through to the end of December.

The annual limit is two bears in West Virginia during the combined archery/crossbow and firearms season. But considering one bear of the two-animal limit must be taken from Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Mingo, Nickolas, Preston, Raleigh or Wyoming counties, these counties should offer the best chances at overall success.

Click here for West Virginia bear season dates.

VIRGINIA

No matter where you hunt in Virginia, chances are you are in bear country. An estimated 18,000-20,000 bears call the Old Dominion home.

Hunting seasons this fall should see little change, except for exact opening and closing dates. The 10-day statewide archery season commences on Oct. 6, and the statewide muzzleloader bear season should open on Nov. 10 and run for seven days.

Click here for Virginia bear season dates.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Increase a lure’s effectiveness by pairing it with the ideal reel speed.

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

This one simple trick will trigger more bass strikes on a jerkbait during the fall months.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Most fishing rods feature both an action and a power rating, but what do those ratings mean and how do you use them to select the right rod for different scenarios? In this video, outdoor writer and tackle specialist Shane Beilue breaks down the difference between a rod blank’s action and power and discusses what the various ratings of each mean.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths.5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

With the Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system, anglers have ultimate kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and the ability to move their boat in any direction desiredAmazing Kayak Power and Control: Hobie's MirageDrive 360 Propulsion System Other Fishing

Amazing Kayak Power and Control: Hobie's MirageDrive 360 Propulsion System

OSG Editorial Staff - November 01, 2020

With the Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system, anglers have ultimate kayak control...

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing.Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

Bucks visit them regularly and so should you.Understand How to Use Scrapes to Locate Whitetails Whitetail

Understand How to Use Scrapes to Locate Whitetails

Tony Hansen - October 23, 2020

Bucks visit them regularly and so should you.

See More Trending Articles

More Big Game

Bear-hunting regulations vary widely throughout the West. Are these differences necessary?Bear Necessities for Proper Management Big Game

Bear Necessities for Proper Management

Andrew McKean

Bear-hunting regulations vary widely throughout the West. Are these differences necessary?

With black bear populations booming in many eastern states, there's never been a better time to fill a tag. Here's how to get it done season.3 Proven Ways to Bag a Bruin Hunting How-To

3 Proven Ways to Bag a Bruin

Al Raychard - October 05, 2020

With black bear populations booming in many eastern states, there's never been a better time...

There's never not a good time of day this time of year to hunt elk.Western Elk Hunting from Dawn to Dusk Big Game

Western Elk Hunting from Dawn to Dusk

Scott Haugen - October 27, 2020

There's never not a good time of day this time of year to hunt elk.

Looking to improve your odds this season? Hit the ground running – and calling.Get Aggressive for Roosevelt Elk Big Game

Get Aggressive for Roosevelt Elk

Scott Haugen - October 16, 2020

Looking to improve your odds this season? Hit the ground running – and calling.

See More Big Game

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now