Looking at the early bear season, September and October, the black bear harvest for this year is shaping up to be about average, in the 300-400 range. While the general population of bears in Tennessee is still high, between 5,000 and 6,000, this year there is a good mast production in the higher elevations; so, bears do not have to range far and wide to forage before winter hibernation and are not exposed to many hunters.
As of late October 2016 there have been 160 bruins taken, 86 boars and 74 sows. In the last half of the season an even larger proportion of males will be taken since the females go to den earlier – mid-November – and the males wait until mid-December. Last year at this time the early-season harvest figure was 364 bears and the final take was 550, the third highest on record. The largest bear harvest for Tennessee was 581 in 2011 (major mast failure), followed by 573 in 2009.
Late bear hunting continues in Bear Hunt Zones BHZ-1, BHZ-2 and BHZ-3 on Oct. 31 – Nov. 4 with dogs and all weapons (guns, muzzleloaders and archery); it reopens on Nov. 28 for those three zones but the closing dates vary: BHZ-1 closes Dec. 17, BHZ-2 closes Dec. 22, and BHZ-3 closes Dec. 11. Hunting with all weapons but without dogs continues in all three zones on Nov. 19-22. The final bear hunt is in BHZ-3, with dogs, on Dec. 29 – Jan. 1.
The counties in BHZ-1 include Carter, Cocke (north of I-40), Greene, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington. BHZ-2 counties include Blount, Cocke (south of I-40), Jefferson (east of Hwy 411), and Sevier. BHZ-3 counties are McMinn (east of Hwy 411), Monroe and northeastern Polk. For more information go to page 28 of the 2016-17 hunting guide, also online at www.tnwildlife.org.