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The bear facts: western game lands offer bruins galore

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

National forests in western North Carolina offer bear hunters better than a million acres of public-hunting land.

Nantahala, Pisgah National Forests

The sprawling Nantahala and Pisgah national forests, with more than a million acres

between them, provide bear hunters with plenty of land to roam. Last season, hunters killed 550 bears on North Carolina public-hunting tracts in the western third of the state, out of a total area harvest of 1,290.

“As more people move into the western counties, developers have bought huge amounts of lands to build houses and created de facto bear sanctuaries,” said David Stewart, a Commission biologist whose territory covers western North Carolina.

Hunters tagged 308 bears on Nantahala properties last year, with Macon County leading with 78 and Graham County with 56. Pisgah hunters tagged a record 270 bear last season, led by McDowell County with 70 and Burke County with 51.

“Nantahala and Pisgah game lands are popular places for bear hunting,” Stewart said. “A good number of hunters hunt bears with dogs. Most hunters know where bear sanctuaries are because they’ve been hunting for years. There’s a lot of still-hunting.”

Croatan National Forest, Tyrell, Pender counties

Hunters in North Carolina’s coastal plane tagged more than 2,100 bears last season, but only 94 came from game lands

Hunters heading to eastern North Carolina probably should consider hunting in counties with a good population of bears rather than on individual game lands. With the exception of Croatan National Forest, game lands with good bear populations are relatively small.

“Croatan has pocosins and tupelo swamps that cover a large area of the game lands,” said Richie Clark, a Commission biologist, “but it has pretty good road access.”

Hunters tagged 21 bears in the Jones County section of the national forest last season.’

Tyrrell County contains three game lands — Alligator River, Buckridge and J. Morgan Futch — where hunters tagged 34 bruins.

Pender County’s Angola Bay and Holly Shelter game lands contributed 11 bears. No other eastern game land saw more than a handful of bear harvests.

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