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Hunting bears in Pennsylvania has become more popular than ever before

This weekend will mark the first of three historic weekends with the first regulated Sunday big-game hunting in the annals of Pennsylvania hunting history.

Sunday, Nov. 15 will be the first of those Sundays, marking the final day of the statewide archery deer season. Next Sunday, November 22, will be the second day of the statewide general bear season. And Sunday, November 29, will be the second day of the general statewide deer season.

Aside from certain exceptions for coyotes, foxes and crows, Sunday hunting has long been prohibited in Pennsylvania as a matter of state law. Adding the three Sundays of hunting opportunities came about by an act of the state legislature last year.

The statewide bear season gets underway next Saturday, and Pennsylvania bear hunters have a lot look forward to after 2019, which posted an all-time high bear harvest of 4,653 animals. The previous record harvest of 4,350 bears was set in 2011.

The largest bear taken in 2019 seasons was an 813-pound monster on the opening day of the general bear season in Smithfield Township, Monroe County. Last year, bears were taken in 58 of 67 counties and 22 of 23 of the state’s Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). Lycoming County was the leading county with a harvest of 284 bears. Nest were and Tioga counties, each with 267. The rest of the top 10 counties for 2019 were: Huntingdon, 180; Potter, 174; Luzerne, 163; Pike, 161; Bedford, 156; Centre, 146; and Warren, 146.

Several expanded bear-hunting opportunities were in place last year that helped to produce the 2019 record total, including an early muzzleloader, special firearms and archery bear seasons along with extended seasons in certain WMUs.

In 2019, hunters took 1,629 bears in the general season, 1,340 bears in the muzzleloader and special firearms seasons, 1,117 in extended seasons and 561 in the archery season. All those extra seasons are in place for 2020 along with an additional week of hunting added to the archery bear season and the additional Sunday to the general season.

The sales of bear licenses for 2019 also produced the all-time record at 202,043. As of late October, 2020 could be another record year for bear licenses with sales up 17 percent from that time last year. And despite the record-setting harvest of last year, Pennsylvania’s bear population is still estimated to be about 20,000 animals. This may be the golden age of Pennsylvania bear hunting.

With so many favorable factors regarding our bears and bear hunters, it seems bear hunting has never been better. Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said, “Pennsylvania bear hunting has never packed as much widespread opportunity and excitement as it does right now.

Today, bears inhabit most counties, providing closer-to-home hunting. But their populations also remain strong on their primary range in the northern tier. So, pick a place to hunt and go. It’s a great time to be a bear hunter.”

The early bear seasons are all concluded, and the general statewide bear season runs from Nov. 21-24. Extended bear seasons will be held in WMUs 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A from Nov. 30-Dec. 5; and in WMUs 2B, 5B 5C and 5D from Nov. 30-Dec, 12. Hunters are reminded they cannot harvest bears anywhere in the Pennsylvania on the first two days of the firearms deer season, Nov. 28-29.

Check station changes

All successful bear hunters are required to take their animal to a designated bear check station for examination by Game Commission personnel within 24 hours of harvest. The Game Commission announced last week that the locations of three check stations have been changed.

Here in the Southcentral Region, the check station in Huntingdon County located at the Huntingdon National Guard Armory will be open during the general bear season Nov. 21-24. During the extended bear season, the check station will be held at the Game Commission’s Southcentral Region Office, 8627 William Penn Highway, Huntingdon, from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30 through Friday, Dec. 4, and noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5.

Mark it down

Also in the Southcentral Region, the Buchanan State Forest Building in Fulton County has moved about one-half mile away.

The new building is located on Route 915, one-tenth mile north of Route 30 and 4.8 miles east of Breezewood. This location will host the bear check station in both the regular and extended bear season?

In the Northcentral Region, the Lycoming County check station initially planned to be held at Antes Fort Fire Hall along state Route 44 in Jersey Shore will be moved a quarter-mile away to the Game Commission’s Northcentral Region Office, 1566 South Route 44 Highway, Jersey Shore.

A complete list of all check stations and their hours of operation can be found in the 2020-21 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest or can be viewed on the Game Commission website, www.pgc.pa.gov.

Some other changes will be in effect at all bear check stations this year due to COVID-19 protocols. Some check stations may have areas that are open to the general public, but at all check stations, only the successful hunter, and in some cases members of his or her hunting party, will be permitted to enter the checking area.

There also will be no harvest maps or tally boards. Hunters and members of the publican check real-time bear harvest totals on the Game Commission website. Select Black Bear Harvest under Quick Clicks on the homepage to link to the totals and maps.

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