Populations are up, food is plentiful and more hunters are buying licenses as seasons approach.
Harrisburg, PA -(Ammoland.com)- Recent years have been some of the best on record for Pennsylvania bear hunting, and one expert says there’s potential for that trend to continue.
The annual statewide bear seasons again are about to kick off. Leading the way is the statewide archery bear season, which opens Monday, Nov. 17. And after that five-day season comes to a close on Nov. 21, properly licensed hunters who still are in pursuit of a bear can participate in the four-day general season that opens Saturday, Nov. 22, then runs from Monday, Nov. 24 to Wednesday, Nov. 26.
Extended opportunities to hunt bears during all or a portion of the deer-hunting seasons also exist in much of the state. There’s been plenty of reason to get excited about bear hunting in recent years.
The 2013 harvest of 3,510 bears statewide represents the fifth-largest in state history, and continues a string of recent bear seasons taking their place in the record books. Three of the five largest harvests have occurred in the last three years. Pennsylvania’s largest harvest on record – 4,350 bears – occurred in 2011, and the third-largest harvest – 3,632 bears – followed in 2012.
Mark Ternent, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bear biologist, said many of the elements required for another exceptional bear harvest in 2014 already are in place. Statewide black bear populations are at record levels, Ternent said, with an estimated 18,000 bears living within the Keystone State. Additionally, he said, the statewide acorn crop is markedly improved compared to last year.
What is described as a “bumper mast crop” is distributed throughout many ridges and valleys within bear country, with core bear-hunting areas within Lycoming, Clinton and Centre counties seeing some of their heaviest mast crops in the past 10 years, according to field staff with the Game Commission’s Northcentral Region. Other areas of the state also are reporting excellent acorn crops.
Higher mast yields typically lead to better hunter success, Ternent said. When plenty of food is available bears tend to stay more active during hunting seasons, rather than entering their dens early. They also tend to be more widely dispersed and travel less, which means that bears discovered during preseason scouting typically still can be found in the same area come hunting season.
Another important factor in the bear forecast is what so far has been an increase in the number of hunters purchasing bear licenses. Through the end of October, bear license sales were up by nearly 7 percent, compared to year-to-date sales from a year ago.
With bear licenses remaining on sale up until the night before the general season, upwards of 170,000 hunters are likely to be licensed to pursue bear this year. Ternent said that increased hunter participation typically leads to larger harvests and, in some cases, better hunter success.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said perhaps no other hunting season in Pennsylvania is as rich with tradition as the annual statewide bear season. Hough said the fact a record number of bear licenses likely will be sold this year reinforces that point, and shows it’s no longer a secret that Pennsylvania provides some of the best bear-hunting opportunities out there.
“The pieces are all in place for yet another banner year of bear hunting in Pennsylvania,” Hough said. “Only time will tell if a record number of hunters will bring about a record harvest. But I can guarantee all of those who celebrate our hunting heritage in this special season have a fantastic opportunity to harvest an exceptional animal.”
Ternent agreed that some very large bears await hunters in Penn’s Woods. In fact, the number of large bears taken during the 2013-14 seasons is one of the things that made that fifth-highest harvest year stand out.
Fifty-eight bears weighing 500 pounds or more, and nine weighing 600 pounds or more were taken during 2013. The heaviest bear in the harvest, taken in Lackawanna County during the statewide general season, weighed an estimated 772 pounds. And the bear harvest was spread throughout 53 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in 2013.
To suppress conflicts that might arise from bear populations expanding into more inhabited parts of the state, an extended bear season exists in a handful of Wildlife Management Units. In WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, bear season is open concurrent to the archery, early muzzleloader and firearms deer seasons. And hunters in other WMUs also have a limited opportunity to harvest a bear during portions of the upcoming firearms deer season. Those areas include WMUs 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E.
Extended seasons in WMUs 2C and 4B are new this year, and the seasons in each run from Dec. 3 to Dec. 6.
WMU 2C has had a slightly increasing bear population trend. Highway mortalities of bears have been slowly increasing in the area, and there’s been a noticeable increase in human-bear conflicts.
WMU 4B also has had an increasing trend of human-bear conflicts, with several incidents in recent years involving home entry or injury to pets and people. Highway mortality of bears also has increased there, as has the bear harvest, which has tripled since 2003.
A complete list of opening and closing days can be found on Page 33 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to hunters when they purchase their licenses, or at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us. All bear harvests must be reported to the Game Commission.
Hunters who harvest a bear during the four-day general season must take it to one of the Game Commission’s check stations within 24 hours. Taking bears to a check station also might be required in WMUs where bear hunting is permitted during all or a portion of the firearms deer season.
A complete list of requirements, check stations and their dates and hours of operation can be found on pages 34 and 35 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. However, there are two changes to the check station information listed in the digest.
First, a check station listed on Page 34 has been moved to another location. The check station in Monroe County in the Northeast Region, will be located at the Tobyhanna State Park Maintenance Facility on Church Street (SR 423), in Tobyhanna. GPS coordinates for the facility are 41.20226N, -75.40477W. There will not be a check station this year at the State Game Lands 127 building off Route 423. The building is under renovation, and it likely will return to being a check station site next year.
Secondly, a check station in the Northcentral Region was omitted from the list that appears on Page 35 of the digest. There will be a check station in Union County at the Laurelton Bald Eagle State Forest headquarters. This station, located on Route 45 one-tenth of a mile west of Route 235, will be open during the extended season on Wednesday and Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m., as in past years.
Hunters should also note the Indiana County check station that previously was located at Yellow Creek State Park, has been moved to the Homer City Fire Department, 51 W. Church St., Homer City. The new location is listed on Page 34 of the digest.
Hunters who harvest a bear during the bear archery season – or in any other period where check stations are closed – must within 24 hours contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which the bear was harvested for checking instructions.
To participate in bear hunting in Pennsylvania, a hunter needs a general hunting license, as well as a bear license. Bear licenses can be purchased until the day before the statewide general bear season – for example, through Nov. 21 – but not during the season. After the general bear season, bear licenses can again be purchased until the day before the extended bear season – for example, from Nov. 27 through Nov. 30.
Bear hunters also must observe fluorescent orange requirements. In the bear archery season, hunters are required at all times while moving to wear a hat containing a minimum of 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material if hunting in an area also open to fall turkey hunting. The hat may be removed once the archer has settled in a stationary position.
During the firearms seasons for bear, hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined. The orange must be visible from 360 degrees and must be worn at all times while hunting.
Hunting licenses can be purchased online from The Outdoor Shop at the Game Commission’s website, but buyers should be advised that because bear licenses contain harvest ear tags, they are sent by mail rather than printed at home. Buyers waiting to the last minute to purchase a bear license might be better off making a trip to an authorized licensing agent and picking up a license there.
Licensing agents can be searched by county at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us, under the “Hunt/Trap” tab.
All bear harvests must be reported to the Game Commission and checked.
About the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC)
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is legally mandated to manage wildlife for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians, as well as all wildlife and the habitat that supports their existence. Pennsylvania’s Constitution and Game and Wildlife Code direct the Game Commission to protect, manage, and preserve wildlife and their habitat within the Commonwealth for the benefit of all people, including generations yet to come. Based on this direction, the Game Commission adopted the mission statement “to manage all wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations.”