With temperatures close to 80 last week, it’s difficult to believe that the statewide archery bear season is about to begin. A season, which customarily has colder weather.
The bear season kicks off Monday, Nov. 16 and runs until Nov. 20. Then on Saturday, Nov. 21, the statewide general season begins and continues from Monday, Nov. 23 to Wednesday, Nov. 25.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, there are approximately 18,000 bears in the Keystone State. And last season, upwards of 175,000 hunters purchased a bear license. Given those numbers, only 3,366 bears were taken last season, which shows bear hunting is not an easy score. That total represents the seventh-largest harvest in state history.
Within that, bears were taken in 56 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. And nine of Pennsylvania’s largest black-bear harvests have occurred in the past 10 years, says the PGC. Interestingly, more than 34,000 bears have been taken since 2005, making Pennsylvania one of the top bear hunting states in the country.
New this year, hunters can now buy bear licenses any time before the last season closes. This replaces the former requirement where bear licenses had to be purchased before opening day of the statewide or extended seasons. This change, says Mark Ternent, PGC bear biologist, may lead to greater hunter participation, better hunter success and a larger harvest. And because of this, the PGC is expecting to sell a record number of bear licenses this season.
As for hunting prospects, Ternent says that acorn crops are average or better in much of the bear range this year. But adds, statewide conditions are spotty. “In many areas, fall apple crops and late summer berry crops were also excellent,” he advises. But he suggests hunters assess food availability in the area they plan to hunt, as fall food conditions can influence success. Find the food and you’ll find the bears, is the PGC’s message.
Ternent believes there are some large bears in Penn’s Woods, judging from the number of big bears taken during the 2014 season. “There were 41 bears that weighed more than 500 pounds in 2014, the largest of which tipped the scales at more than 600 pounds,” he cited. “The largest, a 677-pounder, was taken by James M. Hultberg, of Pittsfield, Warren County during the bear archery season.”
Bob D’Angelo, who coordinates the state’s Big Game Records program, said 22 bears (two taken with archery gear) were added to the state record books in 2015. And sixteen qualified for the Boone & Crockett record book. The largest was taken in Potter County in 2013 and ties for 28th place in the all-time firearms category. It had a skull measurement of 22 3/16 inches.
For successful hunters who think they may have a bear for the record book, D’Angelo recommends that their butchers or taxidermists do not saw off the back of the skull during processing as that is needed for scoring. And before getting a skull scored, all flesh and membrane must be removed prior to measuring. Official measurements cannot be taken until 60 days of drying has elapsed. This 60-day period begins the day after the skull is completely cleaned. That, plus hunters 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.
Hunters may also want to keep in mind that in an effort to cull bear from more inhabited parts of the state, an extended bear season exists in WMU 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D. Then there’s the opportunity during portions of the upcoming firearms deer season in WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C, and 3D from Nov. 30 through Dec. 5, and in 2C, 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E from Dec. 2 through Dec. 5.
Most importantly, successful hunters should not forget that it’s mandatory to take your bear to a check station (listed in the Hunting/Trapping Digest) within 24 hours of harvest. And don’t overlook the blaze orange requirement as well.
As for local bear prospects, there was a bear shot with a crossbow in Bucks County recently and a friend who lives in Schnecksville said he found bear tracks and scat around his barn last week. So there are a few local bears hanging in the area as they seek out food sources.
Another area if you don’t like driving to the Pocono’s, is the wooded area around the northern tier of Leaser Lake and nearby State Game Lands 217 on the Blue Mountain. There is a SGL parking lot off to the right when ascending the mountain on Route 309. In Northampton County, SGL 168 on the Blue is another close-by area to hunt.