Pennsylvania Bear Outlook Good

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Last year's black bear harvest was the second highest on record, and weather permitting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission expects hunters to have similar opportunities afield in the upcoming bear seasons.

"Pennsylvania's black bear population has numbered near 15,000 for almost a decade," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "Because our bear population now covers more than three-quarters of the state - and includes a number of world-class trophy bears - Pennsylvania is recognized as one of the top states for bear hunters. Every year, we have a number of bears exceeding 500 pounds included in the harvest."

The 2008 bear harvest of 3,458 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; and 2,360 in 2007. Over the past nine years, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the Game Commission began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.

"Our black bear population is a remarkable resource," said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. "Every year since 2000, more than 100,000 hunters have headed afield in pursuit of bears, with harvests exceeding 3,000 bears most years, yet many local bear populations across the state have remained stable or increased. It's a good time to be a bear hunter."

Pennsylvania's primary bear season is three days, statewide, just prior to Thanksgiving, Nov. 23-25. There also is a two-day archery bear season - Nov. 18 and 19 - in Wildlife Management Units 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 4A, 4B and 4D. Additionally, concurrent with the first week of the firearms deer season, there is an extended season that is open Nov. 30-Dec. 5, in portions of WMUs 3B, 2G and 4E; and Dec. 2-5, in all of WMUs 4C, 4D, 4E, 5B and 5C. (For details, please see pages 34-36 of the 2009-10 Digest.)

"We expect bear population levels to be comparable to last year or possibly higher in areas where the harvest was down last year," Ternent said. "The exception may be in parts of the state's northeast, where we have been trying to reduce local bear populations through the use of an extended season. Hunters should take around 3,500 bears if good weather prevails, maybe more if there is snow-cover in the upcoming bear seasons."

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.

The heaviest bears taken in Pennsylvania typically come from the state's Northeast Region. And, in 2008, the largest bear taken was a 716-pound (estimated live weight) male taken in Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County, by Morgan C. Neipert, of Tobyhanna, on Nov. 25. In all, 12 bears were taken in 2008 by hunters weighed 600 pounds or more, continuing to reinforce Pennsylvania's status as a major bear hunting destination.

"License sales indicate that the number of bear hunters may be up this year," Ternent said. "Couple that with what appears to be at least a stable, and possibly larger, bear population and it could translate into good bear hunting."

Ternent noted that the two most important factors for big game hunting, such as bear, are weather and the availability of fall foods.

"While weather predictions are too difficult at this time, our fall food survey suggests that almost all hard and soft mast species produced well," Ternent said. "The lack of gypsy moth defoliation this past spring has improved acorn production this fall, which should wildlife to be more widespread in forested areas. Pre-season scouting will be important."

Last year, bears were taken in 54 of the state's 67 counties. The state's top three counties were: Potter, 294; Lycoming, 252; and Tioga, 236. A majority of the bears - 2,951 - were taken in the three-day firearms season before Thanksgiving. In addition, 69 bears were taken in the archery season, and 438 were taken in the extended seasons.

The bear harvest by WMU for all three seasons combined (archery, 3-day, and extended), including 2007's harvest results in parentheses, were: WMU 1A, 21 (7);WMU 1B, 67 (29); WMU 2A, 1, (1), WMU 2C, 227 (238); WMU 2D, 166 (94); WMU 2E, 117 (50); WMU 2F, 246 (224); WMU 2G, 729 (545); WMU 3A, 313 (186); WMU 3B, 392 (214); WMU 3C, 177 (145); WMU 3D, 199 (193); WMU 4A, 145 (100); WMU 4B, 43 (42); WMU 4C, 105 (54); WMU 4D, 456 (184); WMU 4E, 53 (54); and WMU 5C, 1 (0).

Bear licenses must be purchased prior to Nov. 30. Licenses must be displayed while hunting.

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 (Nov. 23-25) or extended (Nov. 30-Dec. 5 or Dec. 2-5, depending on the WMU) bear seasons 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 8 p.m. on all three days. After 8 p.m. on Nov. 25, hunters with bears to be checked should contact any of the Game Commission's region offices for assistance. Office telephone numbers are listed on page 3 of the 2009-10 Hunting and Trapping Digest, issued with hunting licenses.

Hunters who take bears to check stations during the extended season will find that some stations that were open for the three-day season are no longer open, or have different hours of operation. To ensure they're heading in the right direction at the right time, hunters must consult page 36 of the 2009-10 Digest.