Recent years have been some of the best on record for Pennsylvania bear hunting, and the annual statewide bear seasons again are about to kick off.
Leading the way is the statewide archery bear season, which opens Monday, Nov. 18. And after that five-day season comes to a close on Nov. 22, properly licensed hunters who still are in pursuit of a bear can participate in the four-day general season that opens Saturday, Nov. 23, then runs from Monday, Nov. 25 to Wednesday, Nov. 27.
There’s been plenty of reason to get excited about bear hunting in recent years.
The 2012 harvest of 3,632 bears statewide represents the third-largest in state history. And last year’s take follows an all-time record harvest of 4,350 bears set in 2011.
A growing bear population, which now numbers 16,000 to 18,000, and expanded hunting opportunities in recent years have contributed to the large harvests. And the combination has helped to create a sweet spot in time for in-state bear hunting, said Mark Ternent, bear biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“In Pennsylvania’s history, there’s never been a better time to hunt bears,” Ternent said. “Nowadays it’s getting increasingly harder to identify our so-called best bear hunting counties, because opportunities are becoming increasingly better throughout so much of the state.”
In 2012, for example, hunters harvested bears in 56 of the state’s 67 counties, and Pennsylvania routinely has been seeing harvests in 50 counties or more. Bear-hunting success across the state is something Ternent said simply wasn’t possible 30 years ago, when bear populations were more concentrated in core areas of northcentral and northeastern Pennsylvania.
And this expanded range has many Pennsylvanians reclassifying what they consider “bear country” and where they might choose to hunt.
“It’s not a case where there are only a few areas where a hunter might get close to a bear,” Ternent said. “That opportunity exists throughout much of the state, and in areas some might not expect.”
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, 3D, 4C, 4D, and 4E.
A complete list of opening and closing days can be found on Page 36 of the 2013-14 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 37 and 38 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping 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.
Ternent said bear hunters up their chances of success by hunting near available food sources, and with a spotty acorn crop this year, preseason scouting might make the difference. Locating acorns might result in finding a bear nearby, he said.
“Hunters might need to do more homework than usual this year,” Ternent said. “Bears will shift around to find food, and those hunters who scout for areas with better foods, whether it’s acorns, beechnuts, black cherry, or agricultural fields, will have an advantage. That doesn’t mean the hunter who heads to his usual spot won’t find bear sign; he just might see more or less of it depending on the local food conditions.”
Still, Ternent said there’s no reason to believe 2013 doesn’t hold the potential for another record harvest.
Among other factors, the bear harvest is driven by the number of bears and the number of bear hunters, and both appear to be up this year, he said. The weather during the season will play a crucial role in determining the harvest.
For those taking part in the bear seasons, the opportunity exists to harvest a truly large bear. Last year’s harvest included 45 bears weighing 500 pounds or more, five that surpassed the 600-pound mark, and the heaviest bear overall – harvested in Monroe County – weighed 709 pounds.
Ternent confirmed also that bears weighing in excess of 800 pounds continue to roam Pennsylvania’s wilds.
“There’s a lot of rich tradition tied to bear hunting in Pennsylvania, and the upcoming seasons hold a lot of promise,” Ternent said. “While predicting the harvest is tricky business, it’s always a safe bet to say that a number of hunters will experience the thrill of a lifetime in the coming weeks.”
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. 22 – 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. 28 through Dec. 1.
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.