For some reason, this year seems to have flown by more quickly than any other I can remember. I received yet another dose of calendar shock late last week when I realized that bear season starts next Saturday, Nov. 17, followed by three more days, Monday through Wednesday, Nov. 19 to 21.
In addition to the regular four-day statewide bear season, several Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) around the state will have extended bear seasons that allow hunters the opportunity to take a bear during the regular deer season.
In WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, hunters may take a bear during the entire two-week deer season, Nov. 26 to Dec. 8. An extended bear season will also be in effect for the entire first week of deer season, Nov. 26 to Dec. 1, in all of WMUs 3A and 3C and portions of WMUs 3B and 2G.
In WMUs 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E, the extended season runs from Wednesday through Saturday of the first week, Nov. 28 to Dec. 1. Be sure to consult the hunting regulation book for all the specific details regarding the extended bear seasons.
Pennsylvania hunters bagged 4,350 bears in 2011, which is the all-time record, and shattering the previous record of 4,164 bears harvested in 2005. The past 10 years overall have also been the most productive in terms of hunter success for black bears in Pennsylvania, as eight to the top ten highest bear harvests of all time have come during thisperiod. Sales of bear licenses also topped 160,000 the past two seasons, both of those all-time highs as well. Last year, one of every 37 Pennsylvania bear hunters bagged a bruin. But good bear numbers are probably just one factor in the growing popularity of bear hunting here in the Keystone State.
"Pennsylvania's bear population covers more than three-quarters of the state, and includes a number of world-class trophy bears," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "This has earned Pennsylvania recognition as one of the top states for bear hunters. Every year, we have a number of bears exceeding 500 pounds included in the harvest."
Black bears are indeed almost everywhere in Pennsylvania right now as reflected by the fact that over the past four seasons, bears were taken in 54 of state's 67 counties. Hunters no longer have to travel to the big woods of the northcentral region to have a reasonable chance of adding a Pennsylvania black bear to his or her hunting resume. Pennsylvania has long been one of the best places to bag a trophy-size black bear. Many of our male bears will tip the scales at 300 to 500 pounds. I have seen animals that size both in the field and at the check station, and they are impressive to say the least. I can hardly imagine the six black bears with estimated live weights of 800 pounds or more that have been taken by hunters in Pennsylvania since 1992.
Based on the potential to take a trophy black bear here in Pennsylvania, you might think hunters from all over would flock here to hunt bears, but that just doesn't seem to be the case. Looking at total license sales for last year, only about one in 10 nonresident hunters purchased a bear license.
Compare that to about one in four nonresidents who bought an archery license or one in eight who bought a muzzleloader license. Obviously, deer hunting has always been dramatically more popular and remains so here in spite of our greatly reduced deer herd over the last decade. Another possible explanation is the fact that baiting for bears or pursuing them with dogs is often the method of choice at many black bear destinations both in the U.S. and Canada. Both of those approaches are, of course, prohibited here, so Pennsylvania bear hunters traditionally employ stand hunting or organized drives during bear season.
For those looking to bag a Pennsylvania bruin this season, Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist, recently offered an optimistic forecast for the upcoming bear season. "Conditions this year are favorable for another record harvest," Ternent said "Bear populations are up in many parts of the state relative to past years, hunter participation is expected to be good, based on the number of bear licenses being purchased, and acorn crops are above average, which keeps bears out of hibernation longer and available to hunters. The only real unknown is if we will have favorable weather for hunting on opening day."