HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania bear hunters will be able to enjoy a full-week of archery bear season (Nov. 15-19), followed by a Saturday opener of the three-day firearms bear season, which will run Nov. 20, and the following Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 22 and 23, according to Carl G. Roe, Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director.
“Pennsylvania’s bear population covers more than three-quarters of the state, and includes a number of world-class trophy bears,” Roe said. “This has earned Pennsylvania recognition as one of the top states for bear hunters. Every year, we have a number of bears exceeding 500 pounds included in the harvest.”
Since 1992, six bears with an estimated live weight of 800 pounds or more have been taken in Pennsylvania. The possibility of another 800-pounder being taken by a hunter is always in play when Pennsylvania’s bear season opens.
In 2009, the largest bear taken was a 668-pound (estimated live weight) male taken in Jefferson Township, Dauphin County, by Edward Bechtel, of Lykens, on Dec. 3. In all, 13 bears taken by hunters weighed 600 pounds or more, further illustrating Pennsylvania’s status as a major bear hunting destination.
The 2009 bear harvest of 3,512 is second only to the 2005 bear harvest, in which hunters took a record 4,164 bears. Other recent harvests were: 3,075 in 2000; 3,063 in 2001; 2,686 in 2002; 3,000 in 2003; 2,972 in 2004; 3,122 in 2006; 2,360 in 2007; and 3,458 in 2008. Over the past ten years, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the Game Commission began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.
“Conditions this year are favorable for another record harvest,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. “Bear populations are up in many parts of the state relative to past years; hunter participation is expected to be good, based on the number of bear licenses being purchased; and acorns are plentiful, which tends to keep bears out of dens and active through the fall hunting season. The only unknown is if we will have favorable weather for hunters on opening day.
“Weather can have a huge impact on the season’s outcome, but so can fall food conditions. However, our fall food surveys indicate that acorn production is exceptional over large parts of Pennsylvania this year. But, even with good food conditions, pre-season scouting will still be important.”
Bears were taken in 54 counties last year, which was the same as 2008, but an increase from 2007, when bears were taken in 49 counties. The state’s top five counties — all from the Northcentral Region – along with the 2008’s harvest results in parentheses, were: Clinton, 295 (139); Lycoming, 280 (252); Tioga, 217 (236); Cameron, 214 (75); and Potter, 181 (294).
The total bear harvest by WMU for 2009, including 2008’s harvest results in parentheses, were: WMU 1A, 8 (21); WMU 1B, 36 (67); WMU 2C, 247 (227); WMU 2D, 128 (166); WMU 2E, 77 (117); WMU 2F, 282 (246); WMU 2G, 1,027 (729); WMU 3A, 255 (313); WMU 3B, 292 (392); WMU 3C, 73 (177); WMU 3D, 276 (199); WMU 4A, 125 (145); WMU 4B, 43 (43); WMU 4C, 141 (105); WMU 4D, 442 (456); WMU 4E, 58 (53); WMU 5B, 1 (0); and WMU 5C, 1 (1).
Hunters will need to have a general hunting license and a bear license. Bear licenses are not part of the junior or senior combination licenses, and must be purchased separately.
All hunters who harvest a bear must immediately tag it with their field harvest tag that is part of the bear license, and, if during the statewide three-day season, transport the carcass – minus entrails – to one of the Game Commission bear check stations within 24 hours, and present it along with their general hunting license and bear license. During the archery season, hunters should contact a PGC region office within 24 hours to have their bear checked.
LOCAL BLACK BEAR INFORMATION AVAILABLE ON-LINE
Interested in learning more about what’s going on with black bears in your county? Please consider visiting the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s “Field Officer Game Forecasts” found on the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Developed to share field officer perspectives and observations on game and furbearer trends in their respective districts and to help hunters and trappers get closer to the action afield, the field reports have been warmly received by many hunters and trappers since they were added to the website.
“Our field officers spend a tremendous amount of time afield, often in areas hunters and trappers are eager to learn more about,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “Their observations have value to hunters and trappers so we decided to make them accessible to anyone who enjoys hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania – resident or nonresident.”
BEAR CHECK STATION HOURS OF OPERATION
Hunters who harvest a bear during the three-day statewide season (Nov. 20, 22-23) must take it to one of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s check stations within 24 hours. Check stations will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 20; from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 22 and 23. In addition, all check stations will be open on Sunday, Nov. 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
During the five-day archery bear season (Nov. 15-19) or after 8 p.m. on Nov. 23, hunters with bears to be checked should contact any of the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which the harvest took place for assistance. Office telephone numbers are listed on page 5 of the 2010-11 Hunting and Trapping Digest, issued with hunting licenses.
Check station information is listed on page 38 of the 2010-11 Digest. The only changes in bear check station information since the printing of the digest is that the Mifflin County and Southcentral Region Office bear check stations have been moved.
The new Mifflin County check station will be opened at the Brown Township Municipal Building, which is about one mile from the previous site at the Mifflin County Youth Park. The Brown Township building is about 80 yards off Route 655, one mile west of the Route 322/655 interchange.
The Southcentral Region Office check station has moved to the new Pennsylvania Army National Guard Readiness Center (aka “Armory”) on Route 26, 0.3 miles south of the Routes 22/26 interchange that is one mile west of Huntingdon, Huntingdon County.
Also, the Game Commission has made several operational changes at check stations, including the use of handheld scanners, to expedite the processing of bears and to improve hunter satisfaction during this important process.
HUNTERS CAN CHECK ON TRAFFIC AND ROAD CONDITIONS IN ADVANCE
Hunters can check traffic and road conditions on more than 2,900 miles of roadways by simply calling 511 or logging onto the Department of Transportation’s website (www.511pa.com) before heading out for bear season.
“’511PA’ is Pennsylvania’s official travel information service,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “This service from PennDOT provides travelers with reliable, current traffic and weather information. This site enables hunters to check on the status of road conditions before heading out to their bear hunting destination.”
GAME COMMISSION OFFERS BEAR HUNTING TIPS
Pennsylvania Game Commission officials point out that one of the biggest mistakes bear hunters make is failing to locate areas with good fall food supplies – acorns, beechnuts, apples, corn – before the hunting season and overlooking areas of dense cover where bears like to hide.
“Signs to look for while scouting include droppings; bedding areas, which are scratched out depressions, usually at the base of a tree or log; and active trails with tracks,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. “In beech stands, look for fresh claw marks on tree trunks indicating that bears are feeding in the area, and in oak stands look for fresh droppings that are almost completely composed of acorns bits. Either of these signs suggests bears are feeding nearby and, if food conditions are right, they will likely still be there come hunting season. A good time to scout is early November, so you can assess local mast conditions.”
Other bear hunting tips include:
● Look for bears in the thickest cover you can find, such as: swamps and bogs, mountain laurel/rhododendron thickets, north-facing slopes, regenerating timber-harvest areas, wind-blown areas with lots of downed trees, and remote sections of river bottoms. Bigger bears are notorious for holding in thick cover, even when hunters pass nearby.
● Organized drives are effective. Hunters working together often increase their odds of taking bears, especially those bears holding out in thick cover. Develop plans to safely drive likely bear hideouts and follow them to the letter. A minor slip-up by a driver, flanker or stander is all a bear needs to elude even the best-planned drive. Regulations limit the size of organized drives to 25 people or less.
● Hunting on-stand early and late in the day gives hunters a great chance to catch bears traveling to and from feeding and bedding areas. Hunt areas that provide cover to traveling bears and ensure there is either a good supply of mast or cornfields or cover near where you plan to hunt.
● Use the wind to your advantage. If a bear gets a whiff of you, you’re busted as a hunter. Bears have an outstanding sense of smell. They often let their noses guide the way as they travel. Always place yourself downwind of expected travel lanes when hunting on-stand or driving. Bears are cagey enough without giving them more advantages.
●Stay focused and assume nothing. Black bears blend in well in forest settings at dawn and as dusk approaches. Spend too much time looking one way and you can miss a bear. Even though bears are quite heavy, they often are surprisingly quiet moving through the forest. You may see a bear before you hear it coming. Staying alert and remaining vigilant are critical.
BEAR HUNTING BULLETS
● A bear license is required to participate in any bear season.
● Only one bear may be harvested per license year from all seasons combined.
● A hunter who harvests a bear must complete all information on his or her bear harvest tag and attach it to the ear of the animal immediately after harvest and before the carcass is moved. In addition, within 24 hours, hunters who kill a bear must take it, along with their general hunting and bear licenses, to a Game Commission check station for examination. Bear check stations are maintained at the agency’s six regional offices and at other locations listed on page 38 in the 2010-11 Hunting and Trapping Digest.
● Once a hunter has used his or her bear harvest tag, it is unlawful to possess it in the field. Also, hunters are reminded to remove old licenses from their holder before placing a new one in it. If you keep an old license in the holder, you may accidentally use it to tag big game and unintentionally violate the law.
● It is unlawful to kill a bear in a den; use a radio to locate a bear that has a radio transmitter attached to it; hunt in areas where artificial or natural bait, hay, grain, fruit, nuts, salt, chemicals, minerals, including residue or other foods are used, or have been used, as an enticement to lure wildlife within the past 30 days; use scents or lures; pursue bears with dogs; or to hunt bears in a party of more than 25 persons.
● During the firearms bear season, hunters are required to wear at all times 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back combined, visible 360 degrees. In WMUs where the archery bear season and fall wild turkey season run concurrently, bowhunters, when moving, are required to wear a hat containing 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange. The hat may be removed when the hunter is stationary or on stand.
● Bears may be hunted with: manually-operated center-fire rifles, handguns and shotguns with an all-lead bullet or ball, or a bullet designed to expand on impact – buckshot is illegal; muzzle-loading long guns 44-caliber or larger; long, recurve or compound bows or crossbows with broadheads of cutting-edge design. Crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds. Also, crossbows are legal for the archery bear season.
● It is unlawful to intentionally lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemicals, salt or other minerals that may cause bears to congregate or habituate in an area.