Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says at just over halfway through the 2018 black bear hunting season, Tennessee hunters are on track for a record bear harvest year.
Tennessee hunters have already harvested 551 black bears since the season opened on Sept. 22.
The record of 589 black bears was set in 2011, according to the agency.
TWRA Black Bear Program Leader Dan Gibbs says the high rate of spotty acorns drop this year could be the reason for the high bear harvest so far, since black bears have to move in search of food making them more susceptible to being located by hunters.
Gibbs also said the high harvest so far this year reflects an increasing black bear population.
What biologists say accounted for the record high bear harvest of 2011 was a mast failure in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which forced bears to leave protected areas in search of food and onto the national forests or private lands where they could be hunted.
A mast is a botany term that means the fruit of forest trees, such as nuts or acorns.
TWRA says that in Sevier County, which borders a large boundary of the GSMNP, black bear harvests accounted for 20 percent of the total bear harvest in 2011.
Parks and Resources officials don’t have an exact number for the black bear population in the area, but it’s estimated to be about 7,000 bears.
Currently, TWRA is conducting a black bear population study with the states of Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina to get a better estimate of the black bear population.