Black bear harvests keep getting better

HARRISBURG — This is the golden age of bear hunting.

Since the Pennsylvania Game Commission began keeping records of statewide bear harvests in 1915, there has never been a more prolific period for Commonwealth black bear hunters.

Pennsylvania hunters harvested 3,529 bears in 2016, the fifth-highest tally in state history. To top it off, 60 of those bears weighed 500 pounds or more — 17 exceeded 600 pounds.

The 2016 overall bear harvest was similar to 2015, when 3,748 bears, including 68 weighing 500 pounds or more, were taken.

The all-time bear harvest high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested. Hunters harvested 4,164 in 2005.

Hunters in 2016 harvested bears in 58 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, an increase of one county compared to 2015. Bears again were taken in 20 of the state’s 23 Wildlife Management Units. The Northwest Region was the only one of the Game Commission’s six regions that had a harvest increase in 2016, compared to the previous year.

The largest bear taken in the harvest weighed an estimated 740 pounds. It was taken in Rayne Township, Indiana County, on Nov. 18 during the archery bear season by Dustin R. Learn, of Home. It was one of three bears taken by a hunters that exceeded 700 pounds in the 2016 seasons. The three bears were the first to exceed 700 pounds since 2013. In 2011, Pennsylvania’s record harvest year, an amazing eight bears exceeding 700 pounds were taken by hunters.

David Price, of Cresco, harvested the largest bear ever taken in the state in 2010. Harvested with a bow and arrow, the bear weighed an estimated 876 pounds; it was taken in Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County on Nov. 15, the archery bear season opener.

The second largest bear taken in the 2016 bear season was a 722-pound male taken Dec. 2 in Lehman Township, Pike County by Bryan R. Diehl, Northampton.

Other large bears included a 700-pound male taken Nov. 19 in Barrett Township, Monroe County, by Chad D. Nauman, of Cresco; a 676-pound male taken Nov. 23 in Dreher Township, Wayne County, by Donald W. Boandl, of Lake Ariel; a 666-pound male taken Nov. 21 in Leidy Township, Clinton County, by Ryan Grieb, of Leesport; a 662-pound male taken Nov. 21 in Homer Township, Potter County, by Grant Ruhl, of Lebanon; a 651-pound male taken Dec. 3 in Penn Forest Township, Carbon County, by Anthony R. Difrancesco, Chalfont, Pa.; a 649-pound male taken Nov. 22 in Armstrong Township, Lycoming County, by Gregory S. Fuller, of Williamsport; a 642-pound male taken Nov. 19 in Sterling Township, Wayne County, by Randy D. Elders, of Greentown; and a 635-pound male, taken Nov. 21 in Hebron Township, Potter County, by Andrew Tiffany, of Athens.

Although behind Clinton County in bear harvest at the conclusion of the general firearms bear season, Lycoming County finished with 243 bears to take the top county bear harvest.

It was followed by Clinton County with 220. Other top counties for bear harvests in 2016 were: Tioga, 169; Potter, 149; Warren, 131; and Somerset, 116.

The four-day general season again set the pace for the overall harvest, with 2,601 bears being taken during that season. But the extended seasons and the archery bear season also contributed to the totals.

Statewide, 691 bears were harvested in extended seasons while 225 were taken during the archery bear season. An additional 12 bears were taken in the early bear season opportunities in WMUs 2B, 5B and 5C.

Lycoming County claimed the highest harvest in extended seasons, with 57 bears taken after the close of the general statewide bear season. Other top counties, and their harvest totals during the extended seasons, were: Wayne, 43; Pike, 43; Susquehanna, 41; Bradford, 39; and Monroe, 32.

Carbon County posted the highest archery bear harvest with 20 bears. Other top counties included Clinton, 17 bears; Monroe, 14; and Lycoming, Pike and Wayne, each with 12.

The Game Commission estimated the bear population before bear hunting seasons to be about 20,000, kind of uncharted ground for the Commonwealth and hunters.