Locals get to enjoy experience of bear hunt
Brodie O’Donnell went bear hunting for the first time in his life this fall, and enjoyed the experience of a lifetime.
O’Donnell, 17, a Penn Cambria High School senior, shot and killed a 436-pound black bear in the woods near the Cambria County town of Ashville this past October 24.
O’Donnell used a hunting rifle to kill the bear with one shot after obtaining a junior (ages 17-under) hunting license.
“It was awesome,” O’Donnell said of the kill. “I wish I could go back and replay it again.”
O’Donnell was among a hunting party which included 10 to 15 people, including his older brother, Braedon.
The group was standing on either side of a thicket of brush as the bear emerged.
“It was in a big thicket,” Brodie O’Donnell said of the mammoth bear, whose size required nearly the entire group to drag it out of the woods. “I just saw it jumping out, and I took the shot.”
O’Donnell got the bear-hunting bug after watching his cousin shoot and kill a bear in the past.
“I saw my cousin shoot a deer before, and seeing his excitement made me want to go,” Brodie O’Donnell said. “I’m going to get a full-body mount of the bear done. I don’t think I’ll ever get another one like that.”
Braedon O’Donnell, 21, of Cresson enjoyed the thrill of watching his younger brother’s success.
“I’ve been bear hunting for a few years, but I’ve never shot one myself,” Braedon said. “I’ve seen people kill like 200 or 300-pound bears and I haven’t gotten too excited about it. But running up and seeing that one, was pretty amazing.
“We had heard (the bear) run out of the brush, it ran out into the open woods, and he got a clear shot at it and dropped it,” Braedon added. “It was 436 pounds. It was pretty awesome.”
With the bear population accessible to hunters in just about every Pennsylvania county, bear hunting has exploded in popularity throughout the state. Sales of bear licenses for 2019 in Pennsylvania produced an all-time record of 202,043.
“Usually, most deer hunters also hunt for bear,” said Kyle Dambeck, 27, of Hollidaysburg, who also harvested the first bear of his hunting career, a 170-pound black bear, during the state’s inline muzzleloader season for bear in October.
Dambeck shot his bear in the woods near Gallitzin in Cambria County. He has hunted bears for four years, and this October’s bear kill was the first of his life.
“I was watching it cut through a clearing about 80 yards away, I got a clear shot, and (the kill) happened pretty quick,” Dambeck said. “It was one (shot) and off.”
In 2019, Pennsylvania hunters took 1,340 bears in the muzzleloader and special firearms seasons, 1,117 in the extended seasons, and 561 during the archery season in October. The total bear harvest in the state last year of 4,653 was a state record.
The regular statewide rifle bear season was Nov. 21-24, with extended seasons held in some Wildlife Management Units in the state from Nov. 30 to Dec. 5 and in other WMUs in the state from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12.
Hunting for bears is somewhat more challenging than hunting for deer, according to Dambeck.
“There are less bears out in the woods, so your chances of seeing a bear are less likely than your chances of seeing a deer,” said Dambeck, who also hunts for buck, does, and spring gobbler in turkey season. “You don’t see a lot of (bears) out like you see a lot of white-tail (deer) out, and when it gets colder, bears will den up for the winter.”
Scouting and putting in the necessary preparation time in the woods is essential for success in bear hunting, Dambeck maintained.
“Just getting out in the woods and putting in the time is so important – that’s the case with any kind of hunting,” Dambeck said. “It’s a year-round thing that never really stops, and I’m often out in the woods from dawn until dusk.
“You’re looking for signs of a bear’s presence,” Dambeck added. “You’ll look for tracks in the mud, bear scat (waste). Just getting out in the woods and looking for signs like that is a big variable whenever you’re trying to harvest a black bear.”
Black bears in this area aren’t as aggressive toward people as the grizzly bears that inhabit the western United States, Dambeck said.
“Out West, the grizzly bears are a little bigger and a little bit more aggressive,” Dambeck said. “The black bears here are more scared of (people) than people are of the bears.”
Bear meat can be delicious to eat. Brodie O’Donnell enlisted a taxidermist to strip the bear that he killed of its meat. The taxidermist will also prepare the bear’s body for the mount to be admired by members of the O’Donnell household.
“The bear meat is pretty good,” Brodie said. “We’ve made a couple roasts from it, and the meat (is tender and) falls right apart.”