Bear hunters are able to bag some big bruins

Like most Pennsylvania deer hunters, today I’m adjusting to having a forced day off between the first day and the second day of deer season for the first time in my hunting career.

And because I’m writing this column while waiting for the turkey to exit the oven on Thanksgiving afternoon, I haven’t even experienced the first day of deer season yet. So I’ll catch up with some other hunting news in the meantime.

According to harvest figures released by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, hunters harvested 1,498 bears through the first three days of the general bear season. This year’s three-day total is a little behind the 1,833 bears taken during the first three days of the 2018 general bear season. Bears were taken in 52 counties, with Lycoming County the top producer with 113 bears and Tioga county a close second with 107 bears.

As usual, Pennsylvania bear hunters have bagged some huge bears. Topping the list of the heaviest bears for the 2019 campaign so far is an 813-pound monster taken on the opening day of the general season in Smithfield Township, Monroe County, by Victor M. Vassalluzzo of Kintnersville. Two bears weighing more than 700 pounds were bagged, a 747-pounder taken in Wright Township, Luzerne County, by J. Kripp Jr., of Mountaintop and a 743-pounder taken in Greene Township, Pike County, by Matthew J. Erdie Jr., of Nazareth.

Seven bears tipping the scales at 600 pounds or more have also been checked in so far: a 661-pounder taken in Lake Township, Wayne County, by Michael A. Biduck II, of West Abington; a 696-pounder taken in Penn Forest Township, Carbon County, by Brian J. Borosh, of Jim Thorpe; a 657-pounder taken in Franklin Township, Columbia County, by Nicholas A. Podgurski, of Elysburg; a 656-pounder taken in Hanover Township, Luzerne County, by Dale J. Kobal, of Hunlock Creek; a 623-pounder taken in Beech Creek Township, Clinton County, by Mikael J. Catanese, of Sewickley; a 620-pounder taken in Miles Township, Centre County, by Reuben Kennel, of Turbotville; and a 604-pounder taken in Gallagher Township, Clinton County, by Steven Z. Rohrbach, of Lock Haven.

New legislation

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that will permit hunting on three Sundays each year, one within the archery deer season, one within the firearms deer season and one selected by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The law officially takes effect on Feb. 25, 2020, so these three selected Sundays should occur during the fall of next year. Currently, Sunday hunting is limited to foxes, coyotes, crows and feral hogs during the open seasons for those species.

As so often happens during the legislative process, a couple of amendments were attached to the limited Sunday hunting bill. The first of those will require hunters on private land to carry written permission from the landowner on those three selected Sundays. That requirement does not apply to hunters on Sundays when only foxes, coyotes, crows and feral hogs may be hunted. The new law will also give Game Commission officers the authority to investigate private-land trespassing complaints and enforce trespassing violations as a primary offense. Currently, hunting-related trespassing complaints are referred to police unless a game law violation is involved.

Many other states require hunters to carry written permission from the landowner anytime they are hunting on private property. From a landowner’s perspective, I’m not too fond of that idea. Our family owns about 100 acres of woodland. Even though my father never hunted a day in his life, he always left the property open to hunting and at one time even enrolled it in a Game Commission access program. We have continued to allow hunting, and I will have no problem with Sunday hunting there when it goes into effect.

I don’t want to be bothered, however, with writing out permission slips. And I especially don’t want my mother, who is the official owner of the property and will be 95 when next hunting season rolls around, to be bothered with folks requesting permission slips. I also will never give written permission to hunt on our property for liability reasons. Yes, I am aware of a state law that is supposed to protect landowners from being held liable for injuries sustained on their properties if they allow hunting or fishing without charging a fee. That all sounds good on paper but really isn’t worth much in the real world. Nothing prevents someone from suing a landowner, and it could easily cost the property owner many thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend themselves in court, even if they are found not liable. The state will not defend the landowner or help with legal bills in any way. Issuing written permission can only increase a landowner’s exposure to potential liability. I simply won’t do that.

You can buy it now

Switching gears a bit, the 2020 fishing licenses go on sale today and can be purchased online at www.gonefishingpa.com, or at more than 700 issuing agents around the state, county treasurers’ offices and at all Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regional offices. A fishing license makes a nice gift for any anglers on your holiday shopping list as well. A voucher can be purchased from any license vendor and the recipient can redeem it for an actual license. Once again, the Fishing Summary book will be free for the 2020 license year. For 2019, fishing license buyers were forced to pay $3 for a copy. A digital version of the Fishing Summary book can be viewed and printed for free at www.FishInPA.com.