Hun­ters hope to bear down, down bear, when sea­son opens Nov. 17

The Community Connection - - SPORTS - By Tom Tatum For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

Big game hun­ters all across the Key­stone State are set to grin and bear it come Satur­day, Nov. 17 – that would be the day when black bears be­come fair game for firearms hun­ters statewide. How many Penn­syl­va­nia hun­ters hope to bag a bruin this sea­son you ask? The num­ber of hun­ters buy­ing bear li­censes this year should reach 170,000 to 175,000, which is about where li­cense sales have topped out the past few years. The record for bear li­cense sales oc­curred in 2015 when 175,314 were sold. So the sales num­ber has re­mained fairly con­sis­tent over the past few years. A res­i­dent bear li­cense sells for $16.90; non-res­i­dent, $36.90. Full dis­clo­sure: I didn’t pur­chase a bear li­cense again this year, just an­other thing that makes me “un­bear­able.”

Bears tend to be elu­sive and reclu­sive, so when it comes to bear hun­ters, the more the mer­rier. More bear hun­ters work­ing to­gether in the field height­ens their chances for suc­cess since or­ga­nized drives and move­ment of­ten serve to chase bears from the cover in which they pre­fer to hide. Bears on the move pro­vide hun­ters with greater op­por­tu­nity. It’s es­ti­mated that Penn­syl­va­nia is home to around 20,000 bears, a pop­u­la­tion con­sis­tent over the past three years. But in­clement open­ing-day hunt­ing weather and other au­tumn odd­i­ties have helped bears elude the record num­bers of hun­ters pur­su­ing them the past two years. Fan­tas­tic mast crops have spread bears out, mak­ing them harder to find. Late leaf-drop (oc­cur­ring this year, too) also has pro­vided bears plenty of cover to sneak about the Com­mon­wealth. Still, with co­op­er­a­tive weather, par­tic­u­larly on the open­ing day, Penn­syl­va­nia has a chance to over­take the state’s record 4,350 bear har­vest set in 2011. Even with one of the worst starts in his­tory, bear hun­ters in 2017-18 man­aged a bear har­vest of 3,438, which ranks ninth all-time. There were also some big bears in the har­vest: 48 weighed more than 500 pounds.

“The best time to be a Penn­syl­va­nia bear hunter is right now,” Game Com­mis­sion Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Bryan Burhans pro­claimed. “The bear pop­u­la­tion has reached un­prece­dented size and bears are now found in most coun­ties. It’s no won­der record num­bers of hun­ters have bought bear li­censes in re­cent years.”

Penn­syl­va­nia’s best bear sea­sons have been sup­ported by clear, cold weather, with a lit­tle track­ing snow. But a sig­nif­i­cant ice, fog or rain, or a good dump­ing of snow dur­ing the sea­son, can hold the bear har­vest down. Hun­ters have a harder time get­ting to or from their fa­vorite hunt­ing spots, the bears are harder to see, and over­all par­tic­i­pa­tion gen­er­ally drops. But bears are great at sit­ting tight. It’s how they man­age to be­come so big.

Two bears har­vested in 2017 ex­ceeded 700 pounds. Since 1986, there have been 32 bears recorded in the 700-pound weight class at Game Com­mis­sion check sta­tions. But Mark Ter­nent, Game Com­mis­sion bear bi­ol­o­gist, be­lieves Penn’s Woods hold big­ger bears, at least 800-pounders. “Penn­syl­va­nia bear hun­ters al­ready have taken a few 800-pounders, and the odds re­main good for it to hap­pen again,” Ter­nent said. “How­ever, it’s no small feat for a bear to reach that size when you con­sider it takes about nine years for a bear to reach 500 pounds.”

But when it comes to record bears, it’s not all about the weight. Penn­syl­va­nia is No. 2 among all states and Cana­dian prov­inces in the num­ber of black-bear en­tries in Boone & Crock­ett Club records, which are based on skull size. Last year, 22 black bears taken in Penn­syl­va­nia were en­tered into the club’s records. Penn­syl­va­nia’s has been a pre­mier bear-hunt­ing des­ti­na­tion for decades. But in re­cent years, its pop­u­lar­ity has grown, given the size of its bear pop­u­la­tion and the size of the bears hun­ters en­counter.

But make no mis­take, bears are a tough species to hunt. Their den­si­ties rarely ex­ceed one bear per-squaremile, and bear-hunter suc­cess rates typ­i­cally fall be­tween a measly 2 and 3 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Ter­nent. The key to tak­ing a bear is tied to scout­ing just be­fore sea­son for ar­eas with abun­dant fall foods and fresh sign of bear ac­tiv­ity. Con­duct­ing hunt­ing-party drives through thick­ets also is ef­fec­tive.

Bears were taken in 57 of the state’s 67 coun­ties last year. The coun­ties with the largest bear har­vests were: Ly­coming, 252 bears; Tioga, 214; Pike, 193; Pot­ter, 161; Sul­li­van, 156; Wayne, 156; Clin­ton, 153; Brad­ford, 112; Warren, 109; and Luzerne, 108.

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. A com­plete list of re­quire­ments, check sta­tions and their dates and hours of op­er­a­tion can be found on in the 2018-19 Penn­syl­va­nia Hunt­ing & Trap­ping Di­gest, which can be viewed on­line at www. pgc.pa.gov. or pur­chased with a hunt­ing li­cense.

The reg­u­lar statewide firearms sea­son ,which runs through Nov. 21, fol­lows the statewide archery sea­son which ran from Oct. 29 through Nov. 3. Bear hun­ters here in Wildlife Man­age­ment Units 5C and 5d (and in 5B near Pitts­burgh) may con­tinue to hunt bears with archery gear through Nov. 24 in a sea­son that opened back on Sept. 15. An ex­tended sea­son for black bears in WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D will run from Nov. 26-Dec. 8; an ex­tended sea­son in WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D, from Nov. 26-Dec. 1; an ex­tended sea­son in WMUs 1B, 2C, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A from Nov. 28Dec. 1.

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