BEARING THE BURDEN
Bear hunters should set a recovery action plan
While expanded hunting dates approved this spring by the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commissioners offer additional chances to take a black bear in 2018, history shows just three percent of all license holders will be successful.
Upon downing a bear, however, 100 percent of this three percent faces the challenging task of removing it from Penn’s Woods in a timely manner.
Considering adult black bears can weigh anywhere from 100 to 700 pounds, with multiple bears in the 500-plus pound range taken every year in Pennsylvania, the removal process can become quite the daunting undertaking, especially when hunting the remote locations many bears tend to inhabit.
While the odds of success are low, it is important for hunters to have a bear-removal plan in place before to taking to the woods on opening day. Call it optimistic or just being well prepared, but here of some things to consider prior to the hunt.
Strength in numbers
The importance of bear hunting with friends or family members cannot be stressed enough. If solo hunters hike way off the beaten path by themselves and successfully kill a bear of any excessive size, they are up a creek without a paddle.
If at all possible, try to hunt with a partner at the bare minimum or a small crew of hunters so everyone can chip in and lend a hand if someone in the group is successful.
Many hunters actually organize into large groups up to 25 individuals and conduct thoughtfully planned bear drives with much effectiveness.
This is not required to be successful, but it sure helps to have lots of bodies to help get a bear off the mountain if someone makes a kill.
If the only option is to hunt alone, be sure to have friends on call to help assist in the recovery and removal.
While most adult hunters in good shape can manage dragging a bear of less than 150 pounds a reasonable distance, anything heavier than that can quickly become quite the chore.
Rather than risking over exertion, try to enlist the help of someone else to keep things safe and avoid injury.
Skinning, quartering and packing out bears is legal, as long as the hide stays attached to the ear-tagged head.
Most hunters, however, prefer keeping the carcass in tact for official weigh in and mounting options, leaving the skinning jobs to their butchers or taxidermists.
Work smarter not harder
The bear removal process can be tremendously simplified by the use of some simple devices to help ease the burden.
First, a long rope can be an invaluable asset. Multiple loop handles can be tied to create a harness system for hunters to drag in unison. A bear can be lashed to long carry poles for even weight distribution, or a come-along ratchet system can be employed to winch a bear up a steep incline.
In flat or level terrain, a wheeled game cart or hard plastic sled will considerably reduce ground friction, allowing hunters to transport their kill longer distances more easily.
Obviously, a vehicle or heavy machinery will drastically aid the removal process, but many public hunting areas prohibit the use of motorized vehicles on state land, so it is important to have a manual option at hand.
Preparing for the check station
It is required that every bear taken in Pennsylvania be taken to a Pennsylvania Game Commission check station for official examination within 24 hours of the kill.
Successful hunter must also bring their hunting license and bear license, in addition to the harvest tag which should be placed in the bear’s ear immediately upon recovery and prior to moving the carcass.
It is recommended hunters place a 3- to 4-inch stick in the bear’s mouth to prop it open before rigor mortis or freezing temperatures set in, making it extremely difficult for check station staff to open the mouth to remove a tooth for aging.
Bears should be field dressed prior to taking it to a check station, and the staff does not need to examine its reproductive organs, which may be left with the entrails when field dressing. Check station staff will weigh the bear and use a formula to calculate the estimated live weight even after field dressing.
Check stations are available in each region of the state, and their hours and specific locations are listed in the “Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest,” available online by visiting www.pgc.pa.gov.
While success is no certainty in the Pennsylvania black bear woods, it is the wise hunter who has a plan in place if fortunate enough to fill their tag.
Taking a Pennsylvania black bear is a rare treat, but it also comes with a lot of hard work, so hunters should have a pre-set plan in place for removing their bears if successful.