Kentucky Simplifies Bear Hunting Regulations

Kentucky wildlife officials have simplified its bear hunting regulations, eliminating eight zones and harvest quotas to help hunters plan and hunt easier.

Kentucky Simplifies Bear Hunting Regulations

Bear harvests in Kentucky are slowly increasing as the population rises.

Kentucky bear hunters have an easier route to planning and hunting thanks to changes made by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission and legislature. 

Hunters now have fixed season dates and no bear quotas, and only two bear zones. The commission eliminated the prior structure that had eight zones and a quota system that shut down a season once a set number of bear sows were killed. Hunters had criticized the prior system, citing issues with planning hunts and then a zone being closed after the quota was hit, among other issues. 

Hunters may use dogs, archery/crossbow and firearms to pursue bears during the seasons, which are during different dates from October to December. Hunters also may chase bears with dogs for training purposes, but no hunting, during a limited time before the hunting seasons open. 

Kentucky reopened to bear hunting in 2009 as populations expanded from surrounding states. Quotas were originally enacted to allow bears to establish a self-sustaining population through natural dispersion. Now, with Kentucky’s growing bear population established, harvests can be regulated by the number of days each season remains open. Special Bear Reserves already in place add a layer of sustainability. 

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission proposed the new bear season changes in September 2021; regulation changes were being promulgated since that time and are effectively immediately. Hunters still are limited to one bear per license year. 

Under the new regulations, Zone 1 includes McCreary, Bell, Harlan and Letcher counties. These are the counties with the greatest concentrations of bears in the state. These counties also include designated Bear Reserves where hunting is not allowed. 

Zone 2 includes 43 counties in eastern Kentucky, from Cumberland County in the south up to Lewis County in the northeast. 

Several public hunting areas, including the federally owned Daniel Boone National Forest, are not open for the use of dogs to hunt or chase bears. The 2022-23 Kentucky Fall Hunting and Trapping Guide includes a comprehensive list. 

The new regulations also expand the calibers of firearms that can be used to hunt bears in Kentucky. Hunters may now use the popular 6.5 mm round (.264-caliber), which is slightly smaller than the former standard of .270 caliber. Muzzleloader hunters may now use .45-caliber or larger firearms. 

Bear harvests in Kentucky are slowly increasing as the population rises. In 2010, the second year of bear hunting, hunters took three bears. In 2021, hunters took a record 109 bears.


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