HARRISBURG – Last year’s black bear harvest was light, but weather permitting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission expects hunters to have good opportunities afield in the upcoming bear seasons.
“Pennsylvania’s black bear population has numbered 14,000 to 15,000 for at least eight years now,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “Because our bear population now covers almost three-quarters of the state – and includes a number of world-class trophy bears – Pennsylvania has become one of the top states for bear hunters. Every bear hunter heads afield in Pennsylvania knowing he or she has a chance to see a bear and to possibly take a huge one that weighs 700 to 800 pounds.”
Weather impacted the opening day of last year’s traditional three-day November bear season, but hunters still took 2,360 bears by the time the state’s slate of bear seasons closed. The opening day is almost always the best day of any season, because hunter participation is generally the highest.
The 2007 bear harvest compares with 3,122 in 2006, and 4,164 in 2005, the state’s best bear kill. Already in this decade, which still is not completed, 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. 24-26. There also is a two-day archery bear season – Nov. 19 and 20 – 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 Dec. 1-6, in WMU 3C and portions of 3B, 2G and 4E; and Dec. 3-6, in all of WMUs 4C, 4D and 4E.
“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. If we follow the state average, about 30 hunters will take a bear that weighs 500 pounds or more.”
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. However, the Southwest Region also is producing record-book black bears based on skull dimensions, which is the method used for official big game scoring and record keeping. In 2005, Andrew Seaman Jr. of Dunbar took a 733-pound black bear that had a skull measurement of 23and 3/16th inches that the Boone and Crockett Club now recognizes as tied for the world-record black bear killed legally by a hunter. The Fayette County bear is tied with a bear taken in California.
During the first week of October, a large Cambria County black bear was killed by a vehicle while crossing the road. It had an unofficial skull measurement of 23 and 8/16th inches. Skulls officially cannot be measured for the record book until after a 60-day drying period.
“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.”
Hunters this fall also have expanded opportunities with new or enlarged extended season areas in WMUs 4C, 4D, 4E, and the around Lock Haven in WMU 2G.
These changes will open extended bear hunting in about 9,300 square-miles, compared to 5,100 square-miles in 2007 (even with the removal of WMU 3D for extended bear hunting in 2008).
So, there are plenty of bears, plenty of hunters, tremendous opportunities. It sounds like everything is about right. But there are other variables to consider in all types of hunting. Two of the most important for big game are the availability of fall foods and, of course, the weather.
“Our fall food survey suggests that almost all soft mast species produced well,” Ternent said. “Hard mast is a different story. Some areas reported average acorn crops. But there also were large areas that are reporting acorn crop failure where there was significant gypsy moth defoliation this past spring. The northcentral, northwest and southcentral counties appear to have been impacted the most. There are few areas anywhere with above-average acorn crops.
“Scouting, as it is in most seasons, will be important for bear hunters,” Ternent said. “Bears are capable of locating small patches where food is available. In years when acorns are sparse, scouting for those areas is necessary if you want to hunt where there are bears. Talk to farmers and foresters, check out the field officer game forecasts on the Game Commission’s website, and try to spend some time in the woods before bear season arrives.”
Last year, bears were taken in 49 of the state’s 67counties. The state’s top three counties were: Clinton, 171; Lycoming, 139; and Tioga, 121. A majority of the bears – 2,026 – were taken in the three-day firearms season before Thanksgiving. In addition, 41 bears were taken in the archery season, and 293 were taken in the extended seasons.