Boosted by changes in hunting regulations and a poor season for natural bear food, bear hunters had a record-breaking season in the South Carolina mountains this fall.
Hunters in Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties killed 127 bears in the two-week season in late October. The full report on the season was presented to the Department of Natural Resources board Nov. 21.
That’s not only the most black bears killed on record in one year, it’s also more than the 105 killed by hunters in the entire decade of the 1990s, according to the agency’s statistics.
The bear population and bear hunting numbers increased remarkably in the past decade, with a previous high of 92 killed in 2009.
Tom Swayngham, a biologist with the agency, suspects a poor season for acorns was the major reason hunters shot more bears this year. Bears were on the move more, searching for food sources.
Also, deer and bear season coincided in the Upstate for the first time, and hunters were allowed to use bait for deer (but not bear) for the first time. Both of those changes brought more Upstate hunters out into the woods this year, Swayngham said.
The high harvest numbers raise a warning flag for biologists concerned about the impact on the bear population, and the natural resources agency plans to watch the situation closely. But Swayngham noted that the number of bear nuisance calls also has been on the rise, indicating the population is rising rather than falling.
Bear harvest also went up in the coastal counties, where hunting was reinstated three years ago for the first time in more than 50 years. The first year of the coastal hunt, no bears were shot. Hunters harvested one bear in 2012 and three in 2013.