State’s bear hunting gaining in popularity

Last week I attended a fundraising banquet of the ruffed Grouse Association and as usual, it was really a hoot.

I sat with the same bunch of fellows from Trophy Mountain Lodge near Huntingdon and so I had a real blast as usual. They have a hunt for senior citizens coming up on Tuesday and they graciously invited me to participate, but I already had another commitment for the day so had to decline.

I do appreciate this conservation organization, along with the National Wild Turkey Federation and many others who raise a lot of money that is used for habitat improvement, research of diseases and many other items with the money raised, Ruffed Grouse are having their problems too, apparently with the West Nile virus which is greatly affecting their numbers.

The big news for this week is the opening of Black Bear season, this Saturday, Nov. 17. It’s always an exciting day, almost as much so as for opening day of deer season. Part of that excitement stems from the knowledge that the bear population in Pennsylvania seems to increase each year, along with the bear biologist, Mark Ternant, telling us that there are many bears out there that will go 600-700 pounds and that it is a distinct possibility that bears of 800 pounds or more could be harvested.

I do not hunt bears anymore. I have no one to help me get one out of the woods at this point and while I can drag a deer as far as I need to, a bear is another matter. I have bagged as many bears as I want, I don’t need the meat and I have a couple bear rugs and bear head mounts in my house so I don’t go any more.

I got a big kick out of the Game Commission’s news release about bear season. They talked of how the weather always impacts the harvest numbers. It seems that too much rain, and even too much snow, keeps the harvest lower than is needed. Well, the weather has been the enemy of every season so far, as most of us are complaining loudly about all the rain.

But even in the rain, if you have enough hunters along to make decent drives, you can get the bears up and running by properly-organized drives. And there will be some drives made, whatever the weather, but a lot of the hunters have to hunt by themselves and consider such a solo hunt for bear just a matter of taking their rifle for a walk.

A couple tips I can share with you were given to me in interviews with some really good Pennsylvania bear hunters:

n If hunting solo, hunt one bench down from the top of the ridge. Bears like to lay up on the first bench down over because if they get bumped they can get up and over the top and down the other side in a couple bounds. Bears can outrun any human.

n If you can find an actual bear trail take up a post nearby. Watch the wind for bears have more than excellent scenting abilities. Bear trails usually do not have deer tracks on them and will be a bit wider than the usual deer trail. You may see bear tracks on the trail if you follow it for a bit. It seems that deer prefer not to use bear trails.

n If you find a place that show bears have been feeding on apples, corn or acorns, look for a bear trail nearby and follow it back to the bedding area. That way, you will have a much better chance to see a bear when it just emerges from its thicket. If you wait at the edge of the feeding area you may not see a bear until it is too dark to shoot. This tip is excellent advice for deer hunting, too. When bucks turn nocturnal, which is about one hour into opening day, a post near a thicket where they are lying up will give you a look at a deer coming out to feed at just about dark .

n Be especially careful about being scentless. As mentioned above, a bear’s sensing ability is quite a lot greater than that of deer so they will be able to smell the candy in your pocket or the oil on your rifle.

Well, there are a few tips from some experts I know, not a lot different than the ones you observe for deer hunting. Good luck!

Game Commission officials are not especially fond of this day because they know there will be guys out there at midnight trying to get a big bear out of the woods. And they have to be out there too checking them all out.