It's hard to believe that bear season starts next Saturday. I think the shift from the traditional Monday opener to a Saturday first day a few years back has a little to do with that feeling. Over the last 15 years, bear hunting here in Pennsylvania has produced many special hunting memories for me and some friends.
The first of those memorable days came in 1998 when I added a Pennsylvania black bear to my personal hunting resume. I would also have to categorize that event as one of the luckiest days of my life. I actually started the opening day of the 1998 bear season hunting squirrels with a .22 rifle.
It was an unseasonably warm day for late fall with afternoon temperatures peaking well into the 70s. I was enjoying the balmy November morning, really more concerned with deer scouting than shooting any squirrels, when I spotted a bear slowly walking through the woods about 80 yards away. As I watched it through my riflescope, I was amazed to see the bear lie down beside a fallen log and apparently go to sleep.
I'm not sure what prompted me to engage in the improbable series of events that followed, but I quickly made my way back to my car, drove to three different stores to find a bear license, then went home to fetch my .30-06. When I sneaked my way back to where I had left the bear an hour and a half before, I wasn't all that surprised to discover the bear was no longer there. I was able to locate it 15 minutes later and bag it with two quick shots.
My friend, Bill Carter, has an even better story about being blessed by an enormous dose of luck during bear season. A couple of years ago, he and another friend were at his hunting camp as usual for the first day of bear season. Bill had already killed two black bears in Pennsylvania during his long hunting career and bagging a third bear was not high priority for him, so after a few hours on his stand that morning, he returned to the cabin to relax and do some reading. Just before lunchtime, he arose to make a trip to the outhouse.
As he stepped onto the front porch he saw a familiar black shape picking its way through a thick stand of pine trees. Bill quickly ducked back inside to retrieve his rifle, which he had up and ready when the bear stepped into an opening in the trees. At the shot, the bear ran a short semicircle around the cabin and dropped dead just 15 or 20 yards from Bill's truck. I don't know how one could get a bear any more conveniently than that.
Satisfied that one bear was enough for me, I had considered myself retired from Pennsylvania bear hunting after my success in 1998. But in 2005 several friends from Huntingdon County were putting together a gang to hunt bears that season, and they coaxed me into joining the crew. The idea of hunting with more than 20 folks to put on some old-fashioned bear drives was an appealing one. I also figured we were likely to bag a bear or two, but I couldn't have imagined how interesting that first day would be.
I was one of the watchers on our first drive just after dawn. As I sat listening to the drivers getting ever closer, a couple of shots rang out near the center of our line. A few minutes later, I learned that one of the hunters in our party had indeed hit a large male bear as it rushed past him.
Approaching the downed animal, he noticed it was still alive, and while he prepared to finish it off, the bear lunged, scratching him on the stomach and biting him on the thigh. Although the wounds weren't that serious, the bite had produced a deep puncture wound, so one of our crew took him to the emergency room to have it treated as a precaution. Later that week, the Game Commission issued a press release about the incident, saying this was the first recorded instance of a hunter in Pennsylvania being attacked while attempting to recover a wounded black bear.
Along with making some rather strange history that day, our bear crew also managed to take two more bears before lunchtime and a total of 10 more over the next seven opening days, not to mention a full slate of more great hunting stories. That record of success has me looking forward to this year's campaign and what new stories it will bring.