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Bear Hunting Regulations

Hunting Regulations Icon Virginia Hunting

General Information

Bear License

To hunt bears, residents and nonresidents must purchase a bear license in addition to all other applicable licenses, permits or stamps, unless license exempt.

KEEP BEARS WILD! Unlawful to Feed Bears

It shall be unlawful for anyone, including (but not limited to) private citizens, homeowners associations, corporations, or government entities to place, distribute, or allow the placement of food, minerals, carrion, trash, or similar substances to feed or attract bear. Nor, upon notification by Department personnel, shall anyone continue to place, distribute or allow the placement of any food, mineral, carrion, trash or similar substances for any purpose if the placement of these materials results in the presence of any bears. After such notification, such person shall be in violation of the law if the placing, distribution, or presence of such food, minerals, carrion, trash or similar substances continues.

Unlawful to Shoot Without Intent to Retrieve the Bear

No person shall kill or cripple and knowingly allow any game animal to be wasted without making a reasonable effort to retrieve the animal and retain it in their possession.

Unlawful to Dislodge and Continue to Hunt

It is unlawful to dislodge an animal from a tree for the intent of continuing a hunt, chase, or for the purpose of training dogs.

Bag Limits

One per license year, at least 100 pounds live weight or 75 pounds dressed weight (all internal organs removed). Females with cubs may not be harvested.

Bear Checking

All bears must be checked at an official bear check station. Locations for bear check stations are available on the DGIF website at www.huntfishva.com/hunting/checkstations/bear or by calling (804) 367-1000 during normal business hours. Bear information will need to be recorded on a Black Bear Check Card. Do not record information on Deer and Turkey Check Card. Tooth collection is mandatory, and the tooth envelope is part of the Black Bear Check Card.

Look Up the Age of Your Harvested Bear Online!

The age of your harvested bear will be available online 9 to 10 months after the hunting season ends at www.HuntFishVA.com/wildlife/bear/age/.

Tracking Dogs

Tracking dogs maintained and controlled on a lead may be used to find a wounded or dead bear or deer statewide during any archery, muzzleloader, or firearm bear or deer hunting season, or within 24 hours of the end of such season, provided that those who are involved in the retrieval effort have permission to hunt on or to access the land being searched and do not have any weapons in their possession.

Archery Bear Season

Season Dates

October 1 through November 18: Statewide

Legal Methods and Restrictions

Special restrictions apply to archery tackle use during this season.

  • Archery tackle only.
  • Broadhead widths must be at least 7/8-inch wide or expand upon impact to 7/8-inch.
  • It is unlawful to use explosive head arrows or arrows to which any drug, chemical, or toxic substance has been added.
  • It is unlawful to use dogs, except that dogs may be used to track wounded or dead bear and dogs may be used by youth or apprentice bear hunters to take bears on October 8.
  • It is unlawful to have a firearm in possession, except that a muzzleloading firearm as defined in the muzzleloader bear season section, may also be in possession when and where there is an overlap with a muzzleloading bear season where bear hunting with a rifle or muzzleloading firearm is permitted.

Muzzleloader Bear Season

Season Dates

November 12 through 18: Statewide in all areas where hunting with a muzzleloading rifle is permitted.

Legal Methods and Restrictions

Special restrictions apply to specific firearms use during this season.

  • Only muzzleloading firearms, .45 caliber or larger, loaded from the muzzle of the gun.
  • Muzzleloading firearms must be single shot, capable of firing only a single bullet or saboted bullet (.38 caliber or larger).
  • Flintlock, percussion, or electronic ignitions are permitted.
  • It is unlawful to have in immediate possession any firearm other than a muzzleloading gun while hunting with a muzzleloader.
  • Must use at least 50 grains of black powder or black powder equivalent.
  • Smokeless powder is allowed in muzzleloading firearms designed for it. Never use smokeless powder of any type in any quantity in a muzzleloading firearm that is not specifically designed for it.
  • Scopes are permitted.
  • For the purposes of transportation in a vehicle, muzzleloading firearms are considered “unloaded” when all powder has been removed from the flashpan, or the percussion cap, primer, or battery has been removed from the firearm. For complete safety, a muzzleloader should be emptied by shooting into soft ground.
  • It is unlawful to use dogs, except that dogs may be used to track wounded or dead bear.

YOUTH AND APPRENTICE BEAR HUNTING Weekend

October 8 through 9

• Statewide (Sunday hunting on private lands only)

• Resident and nonresident youth hunters 15 years of age and under or holders of a valid apprentice hunting license, when in compliance with all applicable laws and licenses, may hunt when accompanied and directly supervised by an adult who has a valid Virginia hunting license or is exempt from purchasing a hunting license. Nonresident youth of any age need to have the appropriate licenses (unless exempt from purchasing a license).

• Bear bag limit, weight limits, and all other take restrictions apply. If a bear is taken on this weekend, the youth or apprentice hunter may not take another bear in any season.

• Blaze orange is required in areas with an open deer firearms season during this weekend. If hunting in an area with no open deer firearms season this weekend, blaze orange is strongly recommended.

• Bears may be taken with the aid of dogs on Saturday statewide except in:

  • The counties of Accomack, Campbell (west of the Norfolk Southern Railroad), Fairfax, Grayson (west of State Route 16), Henry, Loudon, Northampton, Patrick, Pittsylvania (west of the Norfolk Southern Railroad), Roanoke (south of I-81), Smyth (that part south of I-81 and west of State Route 16), and Washington (south of I-81)
  • On the Amelia, Chester F. Phelps, Featherfin, G. Richard Thompson, Mattaponi, Merrimac Farm, and Pettigrew Wildlife Management Areas.
  • Tracking dogs maintained and controlled on a lead may be used to find a wounded or dead bear.
  • All bears must be checked at an official bear check station.
  • Adult hunters accompanying youth or apprentice bear hunters:
    • do not need a bear license on this weekend.
    • shall not carry or discharge a firearm.
    • shall maintain close visual and verbal contact with, provide adequate direction to, and can immediately assume control of the firearm.

Firearms Bear Seasons

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October 1 through January 7:

In the cities of Chesapeake, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach.

November 28 through January 7:

In the counties of Albemarle, Alleghany, Amherst, Arlington, Augusta, Bath, Bedford, Bland, Botetourt, Caroline, Chesterfield, Clarke, Craig, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Frederick, Giles, Goochland, Greene, Hanover, Henrico, Highland, Loudoun, Louisa, Madison, Montgomery, (northwest of I-81), Nelson, Orange, Page, Powhatan, Prince William, Pulaski (northwest of I-81), Rappahannock, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Smyth (northwest of I-81), Spotsylvania, Stafford, Tazewell, Warren, Washington (northwest of I-81 and east of Route 19), Wythe (northwest of I-81), and on the Clinch Mountain and Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Areas and Channels State Forest and within the incorporated limits of any independent city, not listed, that allows bear hunting.

December 5 through 24:

In the counties of Carroll, Floyd, Franklin, Grayson, Henry, Montgomery (southeast of I-81), Patrick, Pulaski (southeast of I-81), Smyth (southeast of I-81), Washington (southeast of I-81), Wythe (southeast of I-81).

December 5
through January 7:

In the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Washington (northwest of I-81 and west of Route 19), and Wise.

Exception

  • Clinch Mountain and Hidden Valley Wildlife Management Areas and Channels State Forest (see November 28 –January 7 season).

December 5 through 10:

In the counties of Amelia, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Charles City, Charlotte, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Essex, Gloucester, Greensville, Halifax, Isle of Wight, James City, King and Queen, King George, King William, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Mathews, Mecklenburg, Middlesex, New Kent, Northumberland, Nottoway, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Prince George, Richmond, Southampton, Surry, Sussex, Westmoreland, and York.

Closed

In the counties of Accomack and Northampton.

Legal Methods and Restrictions

Special restrictions apply to specific firearms use during this season.

  • Modern firearms
  • Archery tackle (including crossbows)
  • Muzzleloading firearms

Know your Capabilities and Know your Shot!

  • Plan your hunt! Long before harvesting a bear, the hunter must decide how the meat will be processed and how the hide will be used. Both the meat and the hide can spoil quickly especially at temperatures above freezing.
  • A dead bear can be large and cumbersome. Skinning, processing and transporting a bear is difficult, if not impossible, alone. Hunters should arrange to have help available for all aspects of handling a harvested bear and have plans made ahead of time to ensure that the meat and hide are properly processed.
  • Hunters must understand that bears are built differently than deer and other big game animals. The chest of a bear is compressed compared to that of a deer when looking at it from the side.
  • A bear’s most vital area is an 8” circle behind the front shoulder.
  • The best shot opportunity is a broadside shot or “quartering away” for penetration into the vital organs.
  • NEVER take a shot you are unsure of, at a bear that is not clearly visible, or one that is positioned in such a way that you cannot cleanly hit the vital area.
  • Shots directly in the shoulder bone are not recommended. Bears have massive, muscular shoulders and heavy bones. A hunter who shoots ahead of the front shoulder may miss or injure the animal.
  • To take your shot, wait for the bear to step forward with the near side leg exposing the heart/lung area.
  • A head shot is not recommended since a bear skull is very dense. The blunt, rounded shape can cause bullets or arrows to glance off or become lodged in the skull without penetrating.
  • Frontal shots or shots from directly overhead (like might occur from a tree stand) are not recommended because they offer little opportunity for penetration of the vital organs (especially with archery equipment).
  • If you make a poor shot, a wounded bear can run for considerable distances before dying. Heavy bones, hide, and fat layers may prevent quick-clotting blood from dripping and leaving a good trail, making an injured bear hard to track.

See more tips at: www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear

Bear Hound Training/Chase Season

NO BLACK BEAR MAY BE TAKEN DURING THIS SEASON.

Hours

4:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., including Sundays.

See maps for dates and locations.

Licenses Required

Same for hunting seasons where bears can be taken. See licenses, stamps, and permits section for appropriate required licenses.

Unlawful Methods

  • It is unlawful to have in possession a firearm, bow, crossbow, or any weapon capable of taking a black bear while participating in the bear hound training season. The meaning of “possession” for the purpose of this section shall include, but not be limited to, having a firearm, bow, crossbow, or any weapon capable of taking a black bear in or on one’s person, vehicle, or conveyance.
  • It is unlawful to dislodge an animal from a tree for the intent of continuing a hunt, or chase, or for the purpose of training dogs.

Dogs May Not Be Used to Hunt Bears:

  • During the firearms deer season in the counties west of the Blue Ridge and in the counties of Amherst (west of Rt. 29), Bedford, and Nelson (west of Rt. 151).
  • During the first 14 hunting days of the firearms deer season in Madison and Greene counties.
  • During the firearms bear season in the counties of Campbell (west of Norfolk Southern Railroad), Carroll (east of the New River), Fairfax, Floyd, Franklin, Grayson (east of the New River), Henry, Loudoun, Montgomery (south of I-81), Patrick, Pittsylvania (west of Norfolk Southern Railroad), Pulaski (south of I-81), Roanoke (south of I-81), and Wythe (southeast of the New River or that part bounded by Rt. 21 on the west, I-81 on the north, the county line on the east, the New River on the south-east and Cripple Creek on the south), and in the city of Lynchburg.
  • On the Amelia, Chester F. Phelps, Featherfin, G. Richard Thompson, Mattaponi, Merrimac Farm, and Pettigrew Wildlife Management Areas.
  • When hunting during the archery or muzzleloading bear seasons, except in certain counties during the youth/apprentice bear hunting weekend.
  • On Cavalier WMA dogs may only be used during the Bear Hound Training Season from August 13 through 31.
  • On Sundays while in possession of a weapon. The meaning of “possession” for the purpose of this section shall include, but not be limited to, having a firearm, bow, crossbow, or any weapon capable of taking a black bear in or on one’s person, vehicle, or conveyance.