For thousands of Pennsylvanians, today's final day of the regular archery deer season signals the end of bowhunting for another year.
That is not the case, however, for a dedicated group who Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 18 and 19, will participate in the first of what has become the first of Pennsylvania's three black bear seasons. Again this year, in addition to the limited archery and three-day statewide bear season, Monday-Wednesday, Nov. 23-25, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has approved a limited concurrent firearms deer and bear season the week of Monday, Nov. 30.
Bowhunters participating in archery bear season are limited to hunting in Wildlife Management Units 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 4A, 4B and 4D. In WMUs 2G, 3A and 4D, where the archery bear season and fall turkey season run concurrently, bowhunters are required to wear a hat containing 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange when moving, but the hat may be removed when the hunter is stationary or on stand.
From Monday-Friday, Nov. 30-Dec. 5, concurrent deer and bear hunting will be held in portions of WMUs 3B, 2G and 4E. From Wednesday-Friday, Dec. 2-5, a concurrent season will be held in all of WMUs 4C, 4D, 4E, 5B and 5C, and complete details for both seasons is printed on Pages 34-36 of the 2009-10 Hunting and Trapping Digest supplied with each hunting license and on the PGC Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Last year, Pennsylvania hunters took the second-high total of black bear on record, and weather permitting PGC executive director Carl Roe believes there will be similar results during the upcoming seasons. Over the past nine years, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the agency began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.
Last year's harvest of 3,458 bears is second only to the 2005 harvest when 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.
"Pennsylvania's black bear population has numbered near 15,000 for almost a decade," Roe said. "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, and every year, we have a number of bears exceeding 500 pounds included in the harvest."
Typically, the heaviest bears taken come from the state's Northeast Region, and, in 2008, the largest bear taken was a boar with an estimated live weight of 716 pounds in Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County, by Morgan Neipert of Tobyhanna.PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent said that hunters took 12 bears in 2008 that weighed 600 pounds or more, continuing to reinforce Pennsylvania's status as a major bear hunting destination.
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.
"Our black bear population is a remarkable resource, and it's a good time to be a bear hunter," Ternent said. "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.
"We expect bear population levels to be comparable to last year or possibly higher in areas where the harvest was down last year. 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. License sales indicate that the number of bear hunters may be up this year, so combine that with what appears to be at least a stable, and possibly larger, bear population and it could translate into good bear hunting."
Last year, bears were taken in 54 of the state's 67 counties, and the 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, 438 were taken in the extended seasons and 69 were taken in the archery season.
"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, so preseason scouting will be important."