A Promising Bear Season Awaits

Recent years have been among the best on record for Pennsylvania bear hunting.

Black Bears
Black Bears
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Pennsylvania Game Commission

Harrisburg, PA -(AmmoLand.com)- A sizable black-bear population awaits hunters in the state’s upcoming bear seasons, which during recent years have been some of the best on record for Pennsylvania bear hunting.

The annual seasons will kick off soon. Leading the way is the statewide archery bear season, which opens Monday, Nov. 16. And after that five-day season comes to a close on Nov. 20, properly licensed hunters who still are in pursuit of a bear can participate in the four-day general season that opens Saturday, Nov. 21, then runs from Monday, Nov. 23 to Wednesday, Nov. 25.

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 2014 statewide harvest of 3,366 bears represents the seventh-largest in state history, and continues a string of recent bear seasons taking their place in the record books. Bears were taken in 56 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in 2014. Nine of Pennsylvania’s largest black-bear harvests have occurred in the past 10 years. In fact, since 2005, more than 34,000 bears have been taken by hunters here.

Mark Ternent, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bear biologist, said many of the elements required for another exceptional bear harvest in 2015 already are in place. Statewide black-bear populations remain stable at record levels, Ternent said, with an estimated 18,000 bears living within the Keystone State.

Hunter participation also is expected to be high. Last year, a record number of hunters purchased a bear license, and upwards of 175,000 hunters are likely to be licensed again this year if that trend continues. New this year, bear licenses can now be purchased at any time before the last season closes, replacing the previous requirement that bear licenses had to be purchased before opening day of the statewide general or extended seasons.

Ternent said that increased hunter participation typically leads to larger harvests and, in some cases, better hunter success.

Find the Food

Ternent said fall food conditions can influence success.

“Abundant acorn crops typically lead to better hunter success,” Ternent said. “When food is plentiful in the fall, bears tend to stay more active during hunting seasons, rather than entering their dens early. They also tend to be more predictable and travel less, which means that bears discovered during preseason scouting typically still can be found in the same area come hunting season.”

“Preliminary results from ongoing fall-foods surveys suggest that acorn crops are average or better in much of the bear range this year, although conditions are spotty,” Ternent said. “In many areas, fall apple crops and late summer berry crops also were excellent. However, scouting prospective areas before hunting season to assess food availability is really the best advice.”

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 that 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 who celebrate our hunting heritage in this special season have a chance to harvest an exceptional animal.”

Trophy Bruins

Ternent agrees that some very large bears await hunters in Penn’s Woods. In fact, the number of large bears taken during 2014 is one of the things that made that seventh-highest harvest year stand out.

There were 41 bears that weighed 500 pounds or more in the 2014 harvest. Three reached more than 600 pounds. The largest, a 677-pounder, was taken by James M. Hultberg, of Pittsfield, in Warren County during the bear archery season. The bear is not listed yet in Pennsylvania’s Big Game Records book.

Bob D’Angelo, who coordinates the state’s Big Game Records program, said 22 bears – two taken with archery equipment – were added to the state record book in 2015. Sixteen also qualified for the Boone & Crockett Club record book, he said.

The largest, taken in Potter County in 2013, tied for 28th place all-time in the firearms category, with a skull measurement of 22-3/16 inches. D’Angelo reminds bear hunters who are interesting in getting bear skulls scored for the records to ensure that their butchers or taxidermists do not saw off the back of the skull during processing.

Before getting a skull scored, all flesh and membrane must be removed prior to measuring, and official measurements cannot be taken until a minimum of 60 days of drying has elapsed. This 60-day drying period begins the day after the skull is completely cleaned.

Hunters also must remember to not glue the lower jaw to the skull, because the two required measurements are taken on the top part of the skull.

Additional Opportunities

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 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D (Nov. 30 through Dec. 5), and WMUs 2C, 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E (Dec. 2 through Dec. 5).

A complete list of opening and closing days can be found on Page 44 of the 2015-16 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 and checked.

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 45 and 46 of the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

What’s Required?

To participate in bear hunting in Pennsylvania, a hunter needs a general hunting license, as well as a bear license.

Bear hunters also must follow 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 any bear firearms seasons, 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 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 until 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.

About Pennsylvania Game Commission:

For more than 100 years, the Game Commission has managed the Commonwealth’s wildlife resources for all Pennsylvanians. With the help of more than 700 full-time employees and thousands of part-timers and volunteers, the agency provides a host of benefits to wildlife, state residents and visitors.

For more information, visit: www.pgc.state.pa.us.