Black bear hunting season for archers begins tomorrow and runs through the 16th. Regular rifle bear hunting begins on Saturday, and runs until Nov. 21. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, we can go turkey hunting again until the close of the following Saturday. In this Wildlife Management Area (4D), there is an extended firearms bear hunting season from Nov. 28 Dec. 1.
Sandwiched among these "regular" seasons have been various special seasons. Frankly, I long for the days gone by when you didn't need a lawyer's advice to keep all these seasons and WMU's straight.
Pennsylvania has a healthy population of black bears and they keep the Game Commission personnel plenty frazzled just chasing them from place to place. Bears are brazen beasts and, as many a rural householder has discovered, are not timid about helping themselves to anything you have left outside your home. They love bird feeders, dog dishes, barbecue grills, and garbage put out the night before and so on. So most any Game Protector's advice is "For Heaven's sake, go bear hunting!"
It doesn't appear that there will be snow this year so thickets near food sources are probably the best bet. Drives by a gang are usually the most successful way to bag a bear. These drives start the bears running and bears, unlike deer, will often run for miles. Many hunters, however, don't have the pleasure of hunting with a gang and are just out solo hoping to cross paths with a bear that is fleeing from one spot to another.
Finding a bear trail that leads into or out of a promising thicket is a real lucky break. A bear trail, as a rule, is wider and cleaner than a deer trail. You'll spot few deer tracks on a regularly used bear trail. A good posting spot is where a trail enters or leaves a thick lie-up daytime hideout. Bears are feeding heavily of course, packing on the pounds for their winter's sleep. Finding their travel trails between cornfield and laurel thicket will be a plus for the lone still-hunter. A very successful bear hunter from Renovo told me years ago that if I had to hunt alone, the best place on a mountain to look for a bear is the first bench down from the top in the really thick stuff. If they are rousted out of the thicket or just decide to move, they like to be where they can dart up over the top and be out of danger.
Years ago a hunter I know took on the challenge to bag a bear with a bow during the gun season. By a combination of scouting and persistence, he did it too. He located an out of the way place where a couple old apple trees still had some apples on them and lots of bear sign around them. So he put up his stand and for three days, stayed in it. The last hour of the last day, the bear came along.
Another successful bear hunter I know also bagged a trophy bear by being persistent. On the last day his gang was still making drives through the thick stuff and they were worn out. By 3 p.m. of the last day they were mightily tempted to just pack it in. They hadn't pushed many bears out of the brush that year. But they decided to make one last push and as they did, this hunter spotted a large black bear standing ahead of him, alert but trying to figure out just where the danger was coming from. That bear made the record books but had he not been persistent to the end, it would have been just another ordinary season.
Any bear taken in any season by any weapon must be taken to a check station. Look in your digest for the locations of the various stations. Frankly, I'd have that hunting digest in my vehicle because sometimes the laws change from year to year and some are so complicated that you have to consult them often just to make sure you are legal.
"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 couple years ago when a buddy and I were hunting turkey, we walked back to the truck at noon to pick up our lunches. We stood around talking when just about 15 yards from the truck a nice buck rose up from its bed and stood looking at us. He'd lain there quietly all the time we had been there, not trying to be quiet. Had we just walked by, we would never have known there was a buck so close. Had he not gotten unnerved and bolted he'd have fooled us.
Black bears are notorious for doing that same thing. They like to bed down in brush so thick drivers have to bust through backwards just to make it. They know they are hidden well so they just lie still and let noisy drivers bust on by. If a driver or still hunter stops and remains still, it is more than a wild animal's nerves seem able to stand. They think they've been spotted so they bolt.