Bear hunters will be out in force next Saturday. For the first time in decades, the Game Commission has mandated that the bear-hunting season will open on a Saturday this year. It will continue then on Monday and Tuesday of next week. That's the traditional statewide bear season, of course. The relatively new archery bear season starts tomorrow and runs through Friday.
Fall turkey hunters, however, do not appreciate this change since it takes away from them a Saturday they always had. The new season changes for this year have confused many hunters, as I knew it would. I've had reports of hunters who started out a week ago Saturday, shotgun in hand, because it has been the traditional opener for fall turkey hunting forever, it seems. Those who don't religiously study the hunting digest for all the changes are going to get themselves in trouble.
No doubt when rifle deer season starts, many antlerless deer will be killed because hunters haven't become aware that in many WMUs, the rules were changed this year. A hunter may not bag an antlerless deer until Saturday of the first week. I can only hope that Game Commission officials will have some mercy for those who didn't even realize they had done something wrong, although it has been much published, and so hunters are really without excuse.
It appears that all this rearranging of seasons is so that more bears and fewer turkeys will be harvested. There is no doubt that the high bear population is causing stress among Pennsylvania residents who have to cope with marauding bears in the backyard during the summer and fall and among the conservation officers who have to spend inordinate amounts of time answering nuisance bear calls. The trapping and transferring of bears becomes a comedy routine sometimes as officers run out of remote places to release trapped nuisance bears. Game Commission personnel play "musical bears" as officers going out of the county with their trapped bear in tow pass an officer from another county on his way in to the county with his trapped bear.
So it is hoped that the Saturday bear opener will result in a really good harvest. It's usually about a fifty-fifty chance that there will be snow for bear season.
Tucked in the back of every bear hunter's mind is the fact that Pennsylvania has become one of the top states offering the prospect of bagging a trophy black bear. For several years now, we have taken numerous bears that weighed 500 pounds or more. In fact, several bears going over 600 pounds have been taken in recent years.
In 2009, the largest bear taken was a 668-pound (estimated live weight) male taken in Jefferson Township, Dauphin County, by Edward Bechtel, of Lykens, on Dec. 3. I think that for all the black bears I have seen in the woods, I have only ever seen one that would weigh in the 600 to 800 pound class. I'd probably get some kind of "fever" if ever I spotted a giant bear and miss the shot.
Last season's total harvest for WMU 4D was 442, down slightly from the 2008 harvest of 456. One would expect that with a Saturday opener this year, that total could be well exceeded.
The most successful way to harvest a bear in rifle season is to get together a large gang and drive out the thickets where they take cover during the day. Usually, driving out the thickest places closest to a food source is the best way to go about it. But with acorns so plentiful this year, bears could be lying up in any patch of cover near large oak trees.
According to the expert bear hunters I know, and I do know some, the lone hunter out for bear will probably do best if he pussyfoots along the very top of a ridge, watching for bears that are being pushed by others to the top of a ridge. If you know of or run onto a bear trail as you go - you'll recognize it as a trail larger and smoother than most deer trails - here would be the best place to post and wait as long as possible.
Whatever your bear hunting tactic, it will be best implemented in or near the thickest, nastiest cover in the area.