HARRISBURG – Last year’s black bear harvest was the second highest on record, and weather permitting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission expects hunters to have similar opportunities afield in the upcoming bear seasons.
“Pennsylvania’s black bear population has numbered near 15,000 for almost a decade,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “Because our bear population now covers more than three-quarters of the state – and includes a number of world-class trophy bears – Pennsylvania is recognized as one of the top states for bear hunters. Every year, we have a number of bears exceeding 500 pounds included in the harvest.”
The 2008 bear harvest of 3,458 is second only to the 2005 bear harvest, in which hunters took a record 4,164 bears. Other recent harvests were: 3,075 in 2000; 3,063 in 2001; 2,686 in 2002; 3,000 in 2003; 2,972 in 2004; 3,122 in 2006; and 2,360 in 2007. Over the past nine years, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the Game Commission began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.
“Our black bear population is a remarkable resource,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. “Every year since 2000, more than 100,000 hunters have headed afield in pursuit of bears, with harvests exceeding 3,000 bears most years, yet many local bear populations across the state have remained stable or increased. It’s a good time to be a bear hunter.”
Pennsylvania’s primary bear season is three days, statewide, just prior to Thanksgiving, Nov. 23-25. There also is a two-day archery bear season – Nov. 18 and 19 – in Wildlife Management Units 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 4A, 4B and 4D. Additionally, concurrent with the first week of the firearms deer season, there is an extended season that is open Nov. 30-Dec. 5, in portions of WMUs 3B, 2G and 4E; and Dec. 2-5, in all of WMUs 4C, 4D, 4E, 5B and 5C. (For details, please see pages 34-36 of the 2009-10 Digest.)
“We expect bear population levels to be comparable to last year or possibly higher in areas where the harvest was down last year,” Ternent said. “The exception may be in parts of the state’s northeast, where we have been trying to reduce local bear populations through the use of an extended season. Hunters should take around 3,500 bears if good weather prevails, maybe more if there is snow-cover in the upcoming bear seasons.”
Since 1992, six bears with an estimated live weight of 800 pounds or more have been taken in Pennsylvania. The possibility of another 800-pounder being taken by a hunter is always in play when Pennsylvania’s bear season opens.
The heaviest bears taken in Pennsylvania typically come from the state’s Northeast Region. And, in 2008, the largest bear taken was a 716-pound (estimated live weight) male taken in Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County, by Morgan C. Neipert, of Tobyhanna, on Nov. 25. In all, 12 bears were taken in 2008 by hunters weighed 600 pounds or more, continuing to reinforce Pennsylvania’s status as a major bear hunting destination.
“License sales indicate that the number of bear hunters may be up this year,” Ternent said. “Couple that with what appears to be at least a stable, and possibly larger, bear population and it could translate into good bear hunting.”
Ternent noted that the two most important factors for big game hunting, such as bear, are weather and the availability of fall foods.
“While weather predictions are too difficult at this time, our fall food survey suggests that almost all hard and soft mast species produced well,” Ternent said. “The lack of gypsy moth defoliation this past spring has improved acorn production this fall, which should wildlife to be more widespread in forested areas. Pre-season scouting will be important.”
Last year, bears were taken in 54 of the state’s 67 counties. The state’s top three counties were: Potter, 294; Lycoming, 252; and Tioga, 236. A majority of the bears – 2,951 – were taken in the three-day firearms season before Thanksgiving. In addition, 69 bears were taken in the archery season, and 438 were taken in the extended seasons.
The bear harvest by WMU for all three seasons combined (archery, 3-day, and extended), including 2007’s harvest results in parentheses, were: WMU 1A, 21 (7);WMU 1B, 67 (29); WMU 2A, 1, (1), WMU 2C, 227 (238); WMU 2D, 166 (94); WMU 2E, 117 (50); WMU 2F, 246 (224); WMU 2G, 729 (545); WMU 3A, 313 (186); WMU 3B, 392 (214); WMU 3C, 177 (145); WMU 3D, 199 (193); WMU 4A, 145 (100); WMU 4B, 43 (42); WMU 4C, 105 (54); WMU 4D, 456 (184); WMU 4E, 53 (54); and WMU 5C, 1 (0).
Bear licenses must be purchased prior to Nov. 30. Licenses must be displayed while hunting.
LOCAL BLACK BEAR INFORMATION AVAILABLE ON-LINE
Interested in learning more about what’s going on with black bears in your county? Please consider visiting the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s “Field Officer Game Forecasts” found on the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Developed to share field officer perspectives and observations on game and furbearer trends in their respective districts and to help hunters and trappers get closer to the action afield, the field reports have been warmly received by many hunters and trappers since they were added to the website.
“Our field officers spend a tremendous amount of time afield, often in areas hunters and trappers are eager to learn more about,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “Their observations have value to hunters and trappers so we decided to make them accessible to anyone who enjoys hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania – resident or nonresident.”
BEAR CHECK STATION HOURS OF OPERATION
Hunters who take bears to check stations during the extended season will find that some stations that were open for the three-day season are no longer open, or have different hours of operation. To ensure they’re heading in the right direction at the right time, hunters must consult page 36 of the 2009-10 Digest.
GAME COMMISSION OFFERS BEAR HUNTING TIPS
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials point out that one of the biggest mistakes bear hunters make is failing to locate areas with good fall food supplies – acorns, beechnuts, apples, corn – before the hunting season and overlooking areas of dense cover where bears like to hide.
“Signs to look for while scouting include droppings; bedding areas, which are scratched out depressions, usually at the base of a tree or log; and active trails with tracks,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. “In beech stands, look for fresh claw marks on tree trunks indicating that bears are feeding in the area, and in oak stands look for fresh droppings that are almost completely composed of acorns bits. Either of these signs suggests bears are feeding nearby and, if food conditions are right, they will likely still be there come hunting season. A good time to scout is early November, so you can assess local mast conditions.”
Other bear hunting tips include:
– Look for bears in the thickest cover you can find, such as: swamps and bogs, mountain laurel/rhododendron thickets, north-facing slopes, regenerating timber-harvest areas, wind-blown areas with lots of downed trees, and remote sections of river bottoms. Bigger bears are notorious for holding in thick cover, even when hunters pass nearby.
– Organized drives are effective. Hunters working together often increase their odds of taking bears, especially those bears holding out in thick cover. Develop plans to safely drive likely bear hideouts and follow them to the letter. A minor slip-up by a driver, flanker or stander is all a bear needs to elude even the best-planned drive. Regulations limit the size of organized drives to 25 people or less.
– Hunting on-stand early and late in the day gives hunters a great chance to catch bears traveling to and from feeding and bedding areas. Hunt areas that provide cover to traveling bears and ensure there is either a good supply of mast or cornfields or cover near where you plan to hunt.
– Use the wind to your advantage. If a bear gets a whiff of you, you’re busted as a hunter. Bears have an outstanding sense of smell. They often let their noses guide the way as they travel. Always place yourself downwind of expected travel lanes when hunting on-stand or driving. Bears are cagey enough without giving them more advantages.
– Stay focused and assume nothing. Black bears blend in well in forest settings at dawn and as dusk approaches. Spend too much time looking one way and you can miss a bear. Even though bears are quite heavy, they often are surprisingly quiet moving through the forest. You may see a bear before you hear it coming. Staying alert and remaining vigilant are critical.
BEAR HUNTING BULLETS
– A bear license is required to participate in any bear season.
– Only one bear may be harvested per license year from all seasons combined.
– A hunter who harvests a bear must complete all information on his or her bear harvest tag and attach it to the ear of the animal immediately after harvest and before the carcass is moved. In addition, within 24 hours, hunters who kill a bear must take it, along with their general hunting and bear licenses, to a Game Commission check station for examination. Bear check stations are maintained at the agency’s six regional offices and at other locations listed on page 36 in the 2009-10 Hunting and Trapping Digest.
– Once a hunter has used his or her bear harvest tag, it is unlawful to possess it in the field. Also, hunters are reminded to remove old licenses from their holder before placing a new one in it. If you keep an old license in the holder, you may accidentally use it to tag big game and unintentionally violate the law.
– It is unlawful to kill a bear in a den; use a radio to locate a bear that has a radio transmitter attached to it; hunt in areas where artificial or natural bait, hay, grain, fruit, nuts, salt, chemicals, minerals, including residue or other foods are used, or have been used, as an enticement to lure wildlife within the past 30 days; use scents or lures; pursue bears with dogs; or to hunt bears in a party of more than 25 persons.
– During the regular and extended bear seasons, hunters are required to wear at all times 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back combined, visible 360 degrees, while hunting in either of the black bear firearms seasons. In WMUs where the archery bear season and fall wild turkey season run concurrently, bowhunters when moving are required to wear a hat containing 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange. The hat may be removed when the hunter is stationary or on stand. Those WMUs affected by this requirement are 2G, 3A and 4D.
– Bears may be hunted with: manually-operated center-fire rifles, handguns and shotguns with an all-lead bullet or ball, or a bullet designed to expand on impact – buckshot is illegal; muzzle-loading long guns 44-caliber or larger; long, recurve or compound bows or crossbows with broadheads of cutting-edge design. Crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds and cannot exceed 200 pounds.
– It is unlawful to intentionally lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemicals, salt or other minerals that may cause bears to congregate or habituate in an area.