Hunters killing more bears in South Carolina, despite criticism of 'trophy hunts'

Sammy Fretwell, The State on

Published in Outdoors

In the past two decades, the number of black bears killed during hunting season in South Carolina has risen from 27 to 174, DNR statistics show. And 2022 marks the sixth consecutive season in which more than 100 black bears were harvested by hunters. Before 2017, more than 100 bears had been killed in a single season only once.

Black bears are native to the southeastern United States and are the largest land mammals found in South Carolina. An adult male weighs 150 to 350 pounds, on average, in South Carolina, but older bears can weigh 400 to 500 pounds, the DNR says. The animals are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plant material, such as nuts and fruit. They are generally not considered aggressive, preferring to stay away from people unless there is food nearby.

DNR records show the number of hunters has increased, and more people from outside South Carolina are beginning to hunt here. But it also remains a tradition for long-time residents.

While animal welfare groups decry bear-hunting, many involved in the sport say it is part of their way of life, particularly in the mountains. Bears have been historically hunted to provide food and clothing for mountain residents, even though that is no longer the objective in many cases.

In 2016, The State took a rare look at the closed world of bear-hunting. Many hunters said they saw the sport no differently than any other type of hunting. Hunters often spend two weeks in the fall in camps in the mountains, sitting around fires and sharing stories about their encounters with black bears


Phillip Gosnell, a bear hunter from Landrum, said the sport is both a tradition and sustainable. From his observation, bear populations are increasing, he said. Because the DNR prohibits shooting the smallest bears or females with cubs, the population is in good shape, he said.

Gosnell harvested a nearly 600-pound black bear in 2017, one of the largest ever killed during the hunting season.

“Used to, I didn’t see any bears, but now, they are just everywhere,’’ he said. “They are kind of aggravating to put up with. They are a nuisance. Some are anyway.’’

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