Joshua Cordray

Kentucky Bear Season: Key Dates, Rules, and Info

Kentucky Bear Season offers both thrills and challenges to hunters throughout the state. If you're searching for "Kentucky Bear Season," you're likely gearing up for an unforgettable hunting adventure. Whether you're chasing the adrenaline rush of tracking a bear through Kentucky's rugged terrain or aiming for the satisfaction of a successful hunt, this season is your opportunity. This detailed guide provides everything you need to prepare:
    • Regulation Changes and License Requirements: Uncover how recent updates affect your hunting strategy and what licenses you'll need.
    • Bear Hunting Zones: Get to know the designated areas where you can pursue bears.
    • Bear Hunting on Public vs. Leased Lands: Understand the differences and advantages of hunting in public versus leased territories.
Are you ready to start your bear hunting journey? Continue reading to ensure this season is your most successful yet.

Bear hunting in Kentucky: It’s more than just a sport. It’s a comeback story for a species that was nearly wiped out and a big boost for the local economy.

Originally, bear hunting was reintroduced to control the growing bear population and prevent run-ins with humans. Now it’s a major part of Kentucky’s hunting tradition, bringing in hunters from all over to chase black bears in the state’s diverse landscapes, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Cumberland Plateau.

Less Red Tape, More Hunting

kentucky bear hunting

Kentucky’s Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources has been working hard to make bear hunting easier and more accessible. They’ve simplified the rules, getting rid of complicated zones and quotas that limited how many bears could be taken. Now hunters can take one bear per person per year – simple. This means hunters can plan their trips more easily and know what to expect.

The 2024 season for bears has clear dates and zones for different types of hunting, like archery, firearms, and chase-only seasons. This keeps things organized and sustainable, giving hunters plenty of opportunities while making sure the bear population stays healthy.

Big Bucks for the Bluegrass State

All this bear hunting action isn’t just good for hunters—it’s good for Kentucky’s communities and economy too. Every year, thousands of visitors come to Kentucky for bear season, spending money on licenses, gear, food, lodging, and more. Plus, regulated hunting helps keep the bear population in check, reducing conflicts between bears and people.

Striking a Balance

By managing bear hunting responsibly, Kentucky is showing how to strike a balance between conservation and recreation. They are preserving natural heritage, supporting ecological balance, and giving hunters a chance to connect with the great outdoors.

Regulations and Legal Requirements

Kentucky bear season brings out black bears

There are a few key things to keep in mind for the upcoming bear season. The most important thing is to get the dates right. This will get you out into the forests on the right days.

Kentucky Bear Hunting Season Dates and Zones (2024-2025)

For the 2024 bear hunting season in Kentucky, specific dates have been set aside to accommodate different hunting methods, ensuring a structured and efficient management of the bear population. The season typically opens with the archery and crossbow season in early October, followed by the firearm season in December. Additionally, there are special chase-only seasons that allow hunters to use dogs to track bears without harvesting them, which occur in late summer and early fall.

Kentucky divides its bear hunt territory into two main zones: Zone 1 and Zone 2. Zone 1 includes areas with higher bear densities and typically offers more hunting opportunities compared to Zone 2. These zones are carefully mapped out based on bear population studies and habitat suitability, ensuring that the hunting impact is balanced and sustainable.

Season TypeZone 1 DatesZone 2 DatesNotes
Chase-OnlyJune 1 – Aug. 31, Sept. 9-30June 1 – Aug. 31, Sept. 9-30Not permitted on WMAs until the third Saturday in August.
Hunt with DogsOct. 21-25Oct. 21-25, Oct. 31 – Nov. 8Legal equipment may be used; dogs must be on the approved breed list.
Archery/CrossbowOct. 26-28Oct. 26-30 
FirearmDec. 14-16Dec. 14-18 
  • Bag Limit: One bear per license year, regardless of the season.
  • Legal Weapon: Includes modern rifles, muzzle-loading rifles, shotguns, handguns, and archery/crossbow equipment with specific caliber and feature restrictions.
  • Hunter Orange Requirement: Mandatory during firearm season and when chasing bears with dogs.
  • Area Restrictions: Hunting or chasing is prohibited in specific areas such as Daniel Boone National Forest, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and several WMAs.
  • Youth Hunting: Hunters 15 and younger using firearms must be accompanied by an adult.

Kentucky Hunting and Fishing Licenses (2024-25 License Year)

License TypeDetails
Basic Hunting/FishingCovers basic hunting or fishing for many species; additional permits required for specific species.
Senior Lifetime Sportsman’s LicenseAvailable to residents aged 65+, includes hunting and fishing licenses plus permits for trout, deer, turkey, migratory game birds, and waterfowl; costs $180.
Annual Senior Sportsman’s LicenseSimilar benefits as the lifetime license, valid for one year; costs $12.
3-Year Fishing LicenseAvailable for resident anglers; offers added convenience and value; costs $55.
Youth Sportsman’s LicenseAvailable to residents ages 12-15; covers turkey and deer hunting; costs $30.

New Permits for Bear Hunters (2024-25 License Year)

Permit TypeCostDetails
Youth Bear Permit (nonresident)$100Allows nonresident youth to hunt bears.
Bear Chase Permit (nonresident)$50Permits nonresident hunters to participate in bear chase activities.
Youth Bear Chase Permit (nonresident)$15Specifically for nonresident youth participating in bear chase activities.
Combination Bear Chase and Hunting Permit (resident)$50Offers a $10 saving if purchased separately; allows residents to hunt and chase bears.

Licenses and permits can be purchased online through the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s License Sales portal or at various agent locations across the state. 

Legal Hunting Practices

There are a few key rules that govern bear hunting. Here’s a quick review of the most important:

  • You can only use dogs during the “hunt with dogs season” dates. Specific dog breeds that can be used include: Airedale, American Black and Tan Coonhound, Black Mouth Cur, Bluetick Coonhound, English Coonhound, Leopard Cur, and the Majestic Tree Hound.
  • Feeding bears, whether on purpose with bait or ‘accidentally’ with picnic food, is illegal. This is to keep hunting fair. But it is also important for keeping bears from becoming habituated to people and ‘people food.’
  • Weapons are also specified for hunting bears. The goal is to prevent people from hunting bears with weapons that are not poweful enough to kill cleanly. Failure to make a clean kill leads to needless torture for the animal.

Other rules, like wearing hunter orange and following the statewide bag limit, also apply.

Bear Hunting in Kentucky: Public Land vs Private Hunting Lease

The rugged beauty of Kentucky’s wilderness beckons bear hunters from near and far, each with their own vision of the perfect hunt. But the choice between public land and private hunting leases can significantly impact your experience. Each option comes with its own set of advantages and challenges, so let’s break them down to help you find the perfect spot for your next bear hunting adventure.

Hunting on Public Lands: The Thrill of the Chase

Public hunting lands offer a unique blend of challenge and reward for bear hunters. With thousands of acres of national forests and wildlife management areas open to the public, there’s no shortage of opportunities to test your skills and knowledge.

Prime Public Land Bear Hunting Spots:

  • Daniel Boone National Forest: Home to a healthy bear population and diverse terrain.
  • Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area: Offers a mix of forest and open areas, attracting a variety of wildlife.
  • Kentucky River Wildlife Management Area: Known for its rugged terrain and abundant bear activity.
  • Redbird Wildlife Management Area: Features dense forests and challenging hunting conditions.

Public land bear hunting requires a combination of patience, persistence, and adaptability. While you might encounter more competition than on private land, the satisfaction of harvesting a bear on public land is unmatched.

Here are some extra resources to help you:

Hunting on Private Lands: Exclusive Access and Personalized Experience

Hunting leases on private land offer a different kind of adventure. With exclusive access to prime black bear hunting grounds, you can scout, strategize, and personalize your hunt to increase your chances of success.

How to Secure a Hunting Lease in Kentucky:

  1. Research and Connect: Start by researching reputable landowners and hunting clubs in your desired area. Online platforms like Hunting Locator can help you find and connect with potential lessors.
  2. Negotiate the Agreement: Clearly define the terms of the lease, including the duration, cost, hunting rights, and any additional responsibilities or restrictions.
  3. Sign a Written Contract: Always formalize the agreement with a written contract that protects the interests of both the hunter and the landowner.
  4. Scout and Prepare: Once the lease is secured, invest time in scouting the property to identify bear activity, trails, and potential hunting spots.

We’ve got two resources to help you with your hunting lease:

  1. Guide for creating a Hunting Lease Agreement
  2. List of available Hunting Leases in Kentucky

Hunting Locator is your one-stop shop for finding the perfect hunting lease in Kentucky. With an extensive network of landowners and hunting clubs, you can easily search, compare, and book your ideal hunting destination.

Strategies for Successful Bear Hunting

Successful bear hunting on public and leased lands requires careful planning and strategic execution. Here are some tips for hunters looking to increase their chances of a successful hunt:

  1. Scouting and Preparation: Before the hunting season begins, spend time scouting the area to understand bear movements and habitat preferences. Look for signs of bear activity such as tracks, scat, and foraging sites. Early preparation allows hunters to find less crowded areas and identify the best spots for setting up on opening day.
  2. Understanding Bear Behavior: Bears are highly adaptable and their behavior can vary significantly across different terrains and seasons. Hunters need to understand these behaviors to predict where bears are likely to be during the hunting season. For instance, during the fall, bears tend to move to lower elevations to find food for hibernation, making these areas ideal for hunting.
  3. Use of Technology: Modern technology like GPS devices, mapping software, and trail cameras can greatly enhance a hunter’s ability to locate and track bears. OnX Hunt maps, for example, provide detailed overlays of public and private land boundaries, which can be invaluable for navigation and ensuring legal compliance.
  4. Ethical Hunting Practices: Always adhere to ethical hunting practices by respecting the wildlife and the habitat. This includes not disturbing the land more than necessary and avoiding areas where young or female bears are known to inhabit. Ethical practices help maintain the natural balance and ensure future generations can also enjoy bear hunting.
  5. Safety Measures: Bear hunting can be dangerous, so it is crucial to take appropriate safety measures. This includes hunting in groups when possible, carrying bear spray, and being aware of the bear’s capabilities and behavior, especially when wounded or when you spot bears with cubs.

By employing these strategies, hunters can navigate the complexities of bear hunting on public and leased lands in Kentucky more effectively. These practices not only increase the likelihood of a successful hunt but also ensure that bear hunting remains a sustainable and respected part of Kentucky’s wildlife management efforts.


How much is a black bear tag in Kentucky?

In Kentucky, the cost of a black bear tag varies depending on residency status. For residents, the fee is typically around $30, while non-residents may pay up to $340. Prices can change, so it’s important to check the latest information on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources website.

Can you hunt bears in Kentucky?

Yes, bear hunting is permitted in Kentucky during specific seasons designated by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Hunters must comply with all licensing requirements and adhere to designated season dates and zones.

Can a non-resident hunt a black bear in Kentucky?

Yes, non-residents are allowed to hunt black bears in Kentucky. They must obtain the appropriate non-resident hunting licenses and bear permits. These are available through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and come at a higher cost compared to resident fees.

What counties in Kentucky have black bears?

Black bears are primarily found in the southeastern regions of Kentucky, including counties like Harlan, Letcher, Pike, Bell, and Knox. The bear population has been expanding, so checking current distribution maps on state wildlife resources is advisable.


In conclusion, Kentucky Bear Season offers an enriching blend of tradition, challenge, and conservation. Whether you’re a seasoned hunter or a newcomer eager to explore Kentucky’s vast wilderness, understanding the regulations, embracing conservation efforts, and listening to the stories of experienced hunters will enhance your experience. As you prepare for the season, remember the importance of ethical hunting practices and the role each hunter plays in sustaining the wildlife populations. Now, with all the necessary knowledge at your fingertips, you’re ready to embark on a memorable bear hunting adventure in Kentucky. 

Joshua Cordray
I'm Josh. I love getting outdoors, hiking, camping, and enjoying the beauty of this beautiful earth. I'm also passionate about writing, and love creating stories, guides, and helpful articles about everything to do with being an outdoorsman.

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