Black Bear Hunting in Alaska

Hunting Black Bear in Unit 6D
Prince William Sound

Successful hunter with black bear
Photo courtesy of Nick Docken

Current Status: Bear Population and Harvest

Anecdotal reports and harvest records suggest black bear numbers may have increased substantially during the last half of the 1990s in western Prince William Sound’s Game Management Unit 6D. At the same time, the number of people visiting the sound increased. Black bear hunting– along with fishing and shrimping – is popular among Alaskans who flock to the region each spring. Bears are frequently harvested as they venture to coastal sedge flats to eat plants.

Evidence suggests the Unit 6D black bear population may have experienced excessive harvest. Harvest tripled from regulatory years (RY) 1998 to RY 2007 following access improvements in PWS. Annual harvest declined by an average of about 5% per year between RY 2008 and RY 2011. The harvest decline accelerated to 48% between the RY 2012 and RY 2013. Of additional concern was the increased harvest of female black bears which exceeded 40% of the annual harvest in the RY 2011 – RY 2013. Harvest and success rates in RY 2014 and RY 2015 continued to decline, however, the proportion of females in the harvest improved to less than 30%. Hunter success rates declined from approximately 50% in RY 2009-2011 and were below 20% in RY 2014 and RY 2015 (these data are only available after RY 2009 when the harvest ticket system was implemented for black bears). Since RY 2015, the harvest has been increasing and success rates have climbed to over 40% since RY2020.

The improvement in sex ratios, success rates and increasing harvest suggests that the population is increasing. Research from ADFG and USFS is underway to learn more about this population and determine appropriate levels of harvest. Harvest increased 50% from RY 2019 to RY 2020. It’s hard to know how much of this increase may be related to a population increase and how much is driven by hunter interest. As the harvest increases, hunters are encouraged to select large male bears which helps ensure future hunting opportunity.

This figure shows the total black bear harvest (blue bars) peaked in RY 2007 and declined until RY 2016. This decline may have been influenced by regulatory changes, but it may also have been related to the increased proportion of females in the harvest (green line). Since 2016, all indications suggest improvement.

Management Actions Address Harvest Concerns

The Alaska Board of Game and the Department of Fish and Game have taken a series of actions to reduce black bear harvests. These changes include a restriction on shooting from a boat (2003), closing black bear baiting in high- and diverse-use areas (2005), and shortening the hunting season (2005 and 2009). Despite these changes, the harvest continued to increase until 2007 and the percentage of females harvested has continued to climb.

The Board of Game also changed the longstanding general season black bear hunt in Unit 6D to a registration hunt starting in the fall 2015 (RY 2015). Permits for the hunt are available online and at ADFG offices. Hunters have 30 days to seal bears, but need to report harvests within five days of making a kill. This registration hunt has a maximum allowable harvest level just as mountain goat and moose hunts do in many parts of the state. Once this harvest level is reached, the season will close. Season closure dates will depend each year on how many people go hunting, overall harvest and proportion of females.

Conserve Bears, Be Selective

Hunters can help conserve Prince William Sound black bears by harvesting selectively. Black bears can appear deceptively large, so hunters are encouraged to do some homework before entering the field. Learn to identify and select adult male black bears only. Be patient, and don't shoot the moment a black bear is seen. A sow may stash cubs in a tree while she feeds. Taking sows with cubs is hard on the population and it’s illegal. Take the time to select a mature boar.

It's Getting Crowded Out There

Opening the road to Whittier in June 2000 increased access to Prince William Sound. As a result, user conflicts – including competition for campsites among hunters, anglers and other recreational groups – are increasing.

Bear hunters must be responsible for safety and ethical considerations while hunting in areas shared with other users. Common sense and courtesy can go a long way toward preventing conflicts with others in Prince William Sound. Consider the following:

  • Know and obey hunting regulations and boundaries. For example, hunters interested in baiting bears must be aware of and avoid areas that are closed to baiting (PDF 290 kB).
  • Be discreet. Avoid hunting and setting bait stations around beaches heavily used for camping. Set bait stations away from shorelines to prevent being noticed or disturbed by other people. Dumping dog food on beaches to attract bears is illegal unless registered as a bait station and must be cleaned up afterward.
  • Recreational boaters and campers flood the sound on Memorial Day weekend, so try to schedule hunts earlier in May. Pack out all trash and bait when you leave; others will be using your campsite during the summer.
  • Give kayakers a wide berth if you are in a motorized boat. Do not hunt bears being viewed by non-hunters. These bears are being “used” by others.
  • Hunters are protected from intentional harassment under the Alaska Hunter Harassment Law. However, many non-hunters are unaware of the law and may need to be politely informed.

Increase Your Odds of Bagging a Prime Black Bear

  • Prior to hunting, consult the sources below and elsewhere to learn sex and size characteristics, habitat, shot placement, and legal requirements. Because of their solid black color, it’s difficult to determine a black bear’s size, vital zone and distance without practice. Learn how to judge hide quality, properly skin a bear and care for meat.
  • Shooting black bears from boats is illegal in Unit 6D. Shooting from boats creates unacceptable wounding loss and wastes the resource. Beaching the boat or dropping a partner downwind to stalk a bear on foot provides a better shot, clean kill, and more satisfying hunt.
  • Investigate all shots taken, even if you think you missed. Often, a mortally wounded bear will bolt into the forest before dying. Hunters are responsible for tracking and recovering bears they have wounded. Immediately after the shot, visually mark where the bear was standing, then look for signs indicating it was hit.

Travel Safely in the Sound

Prince William Sound can be as treacherous as it is beautiful. It is important to learn boating safety, navigation rules, and weather. The Department of Natural Resources Office of Boating Safety has a useful web site specific to Prince William Sound. The U.S. Coast Guard teaches boating classes, and has a boating video for hunters available for viewing at some ADFG offices. The National Weather Service has weather and sea conditions available online including buoys, radar, and marine forecasts, or by telephone (907-424-3333).

Private Lands in Western Prince William Sound

It is a hunter’s responsibility to know where they are hunting and avoid trespassing on private lands. These include all or most of Latouche, Chenega, Fleming, Knight and Evans Islands, and smaller areas of Shotgun Cove, Whale Bay and Bainbridge Island. Contact Chugach Alaska Corp. (907-563-8866) for details and land-use permits. Other major land owners in Prince William Sound include the Village Corporations of Chenega, Tatitlek and Eyak.

Additional Information

For more information contact:
Charlotte Westing or Samantha Stevenson-Renner at (907) 424-3215 or via e-mail: