A Season Of Promise For Pennsylvania Black Bear Hunters

A Season Of Promise For Pennsylvania Black Bear Hunters

Pennsylvania Game Commission
Pennsylvania Game Commission

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA – 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 23 and 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 north central, northwest and south central 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 6767 counties 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.

The bear harvest, by WMU, for all three seasons combined (archery, 3-day, and extended), including 2006's harvest results in parentheses, were: WMU 1A, 7 (12); WMU 1B, 29 (37); WMU 2A, 1, (0), WMU 2C, 238 (267); WMU 2D, 94 (101); WMU 2E, 50 (101); WMU 2F, 224 (206); WMU 2G, 545 (724); WMU 3A, 186 (242); WMU 3B, 214 (372); WMU 3C, 145 (245); WMU 3D, 193 (224); WMU 4A, 100 (116); WMU 4B, 42 (32); WMU 4C, 54 (70); WMU 4D, 184 (299); and WMU 4E, 54 (74).

Bear licenses must be purchased prior to Dec. 1. Hunters who already have their general hunting license (which is silver) may add bear license privileges at any issuing agent or via “The Outdoor Shop” on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). If purchasing a bear license online, hunters will be given a “web order number” at the end of the transaction, which they will be instructed to write in the appropriate area on their general license and sign the appropriate box; they will not need to wait for anything to be mailed.

Hunters who purchased their general hunting license (which is yellow) through the agency's pilot “Pennsylvania Automated License System” would need to purchase their bear license through the PALS website (www.wildlifelicense.com/pa), and wait for a new bear license to be mailed to them, which could take seven to 10 days for delivery, or they can visit one of the 15 sites selling licenses via PALS.


Interested in learning more about what's going on with black bears in your county? Please consider visiting the Pennsylvania Game Commission's “Field Officer Game Forecasts” found on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Developed to share field officer perspectives and observations on game and furbearer trends in their respective districts and to help hunters and trappers get closer to the action afield, the field reports have been warmly received by many hunters and trappers since they were added to the website.

“Our field officers spend a tremendous amount of time afield, often in areas hunters and trappers are eager to learn more about,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “Their observations have value to hunters and trappers so we decided to make them accessible to anyone who enjoys hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania – resident or nonresident.”

Hunters planning to participate in the state's archery bear season on Nov. 19 and 20 must have a general hunting license and a bear license from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The archery bear season will be held in Wildlife Management Units 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 4A, 4B and 4D.

In WMUs where the archery bear season and fall wild turkey season run concurrently, bowhunters are required to wear a hat containing 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange when moving. The hat may be removed when the hunter is stationary or on stand.
WMUs affected by this requirement are WMUs 2D, 2G, 3A and 4D.

Although crossbows are permitted to be used by any hunter participating in the regular or extended bear seasons, they are not allowed in the archery bear season, except by authorized disabled permit holders.

Any bear taken by a bowhunter must be checked by the Game Commission within 24 hours of the time it was killed. Successful bowhunters should call a region office for instructions. Region office staff will direct the hunter to a location where an employee will meet him or her and check the bear. Traditional check stations will not be open during the archery bear season. Telephone numbers for the six region offices are listed on page 3 of the 2008-09 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest.

Hunters who harvest a bear during the three-day statewide (Nov. 24-26) or extended (Dec. 1-Dec. 6 or Dec. 3-6, depending on the WMU) bear seasons must take it to one of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's check stations within 24 hours. Check stations will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on Nov. 24 and 25; and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 26. After 6 p.m. on Nov. 26, hunters with bears to be checked should contact any of the Game Commission's region offices for assistance. Office telephone numbers are listed on page 3 of the 2008-09 Hunting and Trapping Digest, issued with hunting licenses.

Hunters who take bears to check stations during the extended season will find that some stations that were open for the three-day season are no longer open, or have different hours of operation. To ensure they're heading in the right direction at the right time, hunters must consult page 41 of the 2008-09 Digest.


Pennsylvania Game Commission officials point out that one of the biggest mistakes bear hunters make is failing to locate areas with good fall food supplies – acorns, beechnuts, apples, corn – before the hunting season and overlooking areas of dense cover where bears like to hide.

“Signs to look for while scouting include droppings; bedding areas, which are scratched out depressions, usually at the base of a tree or log; and active trails with tracks,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. “In beech stands, look for fresh claw marks on tree trunks indicating that bears are feeding in the area, and in oak stands look for fresh droppings that are almost completely composed of acorns bits. Either of these signs suggests bears are feeding nearby and, if food conditions are right, they will likely still be there come hunting season.

“A good time to scout is early November, so you can assess local mast conditions. When mast conditions are sparse or spotty, which appears to be the case this year, finding an area with any acorns dramatically increases your odds of also finding a bear.”

Land Management Group Supervisor John Dzemyan, who works in Elk and McKean counties, said, “Some basic tips to find and harvest a bear are to hunt thick areas with lots of mast, especially acorns, nearby. Hunt areas where plenty of bear hunters move about, which, in turn, moves the bears about. Hunt the whole day, hunt all three days if possible, and hope for good weather.”

Other bear hunting tips include:

– Look for bears in the thickest cover you can find, such as: swamps and bogs, mountain laurel/rhododendron thickets, north-facing slopes, regenerating timber-harvest areas, wind-blown areas with lots of downed trees, and remote sections of river bottoms. Bigger bears are notorious for holding in thick cover, even when hunters pass nearby.

– Organized drives are effective. Hunters working together often increase their odds of taking bears, especially those bears holding out in thick cover. Develop plans to safely drive likely bear hideouts and follow them to the letter. A minor slip-up by a driver, flanker or stander is all a bear needs to elude even the best-planned drive. Regulations limit the size of organized drives to 25 people or less.

– Hunting on-stand early and late in the day gives hunters a great chance to catch bears traveling to and from feeding and bedding areas. Hunt areas that provide cover to traveling bears and ensure there is either a good supply of mast or cornfields or cover near where you plan to hunt.

– Use the wind to your advantage. If a bear gets a whiff of you, you're busted as a hunter. Bears have an outstanding sense of smell. They often let their noses guide the way as they travel. Always place yourself downwind of expected travel lanes when hunting on-stand or driving. Bears are cagey enough without giving them more advantages.

– Stay focused and assume nothing. Black bears blend in well in forest settings at dawn and as dusk approaches. Spend too much time looking one way and you can miss a bear. Even though bears are quite heavy, they often are surprisingly quiet moving through the forest. You may see a bear before you hear it coming. Staying alert and remaining vigilant are critical.

– A bear license is required to participate in any bear season.

– Only one bear may be harvested per license year from all seasons combined.

– A hunter who harvests a bear must complete all information on his or her bear harvest tag and attach it to the ear of the animal immediately after harvest and before the carcass is moved. In addition, within 24 hours, hunters who kill a bear must take it, along with their general hunting and bear licenses, to a Game Commission check station for examination. Bear check stations are maintained at the agency's six regional offices and at other locations listed on page 41 in the 2008-09 Hunting and Trapping Digest.

– Once a hunter has used his or her bear harvest tag, it is unlawful to possess it in the field. Also, hunters are reminded to remove old licenses from their holder before placing a new one in it. If you keep an old license in the holder, you may accidentally use it to tag big game and unintentionally violate the law.

– It is unlawful to kill a bear in a den; use a radio to locate a bear that has a radio transmitter attached to it; hunt in areas where artificial or natural bait, hay, grain, fruit, nuts, salt, chemicals, minerals, including residue or other foods are used, or have been used, as an enticement to lure wildlife within the past 30 days; use scents or lures; pursue bears with dogs; or to hunt bears in a party of more than 25 persons.

– During the regular and extended bear seasons, hunters are required to wear at all times 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back combined, visible 360 degrees, while hunting in either of the black bear firearms seasons. In WMUs where the archery bear season and fall wild turkey season run concurrently, bowhunters when moving are required to wear a hat containing 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange. The hat may be removed when the hunter is stationary or on stand. Those WMUs affected by this requirement are 2D, 2G, 3A and 4D.

– Bears may be hunted with: manually-operated center-fire rifles, handguns and shotguns with an all-lead bullet or ball, or a bullet designed to expand on impact – buckshot is illegal; muzzle-loading long guns 44-caliber or larger; long, recurve or compound bows or crossbows with broadheads of cutting-edge design. Crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds and cannot exceed 200 pounds.

– It is unlawful to intentionally lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemicals, salt or other minerals that may cause bears to congregate or habituate in an area.

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