HARRISBURG – Beginning with Monday's opening of the five-day statewide archery season, this year the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commissioners have created more opportunities than ever for hunting black bear in the state.

Next Saturday is the opening day of the statewide firearms bear season, and once again the board expects many Junior license holders in the 12-16 age group to take advantage of the opener – as they did last year with the first Saturday opening day. Unlike last year, however, the season will continue Monday, Nov. 21, through Wednesday, Nov. 23, rather than last year's Monday and Tuesday dates only.

Also returning this year are the popular concurrent bear/deer seasons in specific wildlife management units: Monday-Saturday, Nov. 28-Dec. 3, in WMUs 3A and 3C and select areas of WMUs 2G and 3B; and Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 28-Dec. 3, in WMUs 3D, 4C, 4D, 4E, 5B and 5C.

In addition to creating 15 days of bear hunting in some areas of the state, the PGC has liberalized regulations for purchasing a bear license, which must be obtained in addition to a general hunting license. Bear license are available at issuing agents through Friday, Nov. 18, and following the four-day firearms season will be available again Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 24-27.

Although the most ever Junior hunters bought bear licenses last year, the reduced hunting dates resulted in just 3,094 bears being taken. While ranking No. 5 all-time since the PGC began keeping records in 1915, it was the fewest in three years and fell short of the projected total of approximately 3,500.

Based on the recommendations of PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent, the board created this year's liberal hunting opportunities which are designed to control the statewide population of approximately 18,000 bears. Depending on favorable weather conditions, hunters could approach the all-time record of the 4,164 bears taken in 2005.

"Pennsylvania's bear population covers more than three-quarters of the state, and includes a number of world-class trophy bears," Ternent said. "This has earned Pennsylvania recognition 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.

"Since 1992, six bears with an estimated live weight of 800 pounds or more have been legally taken in Pennsylvania. The possibility of another 800-pounder being taken by a hunter is always in play when Pennsylvania's bear season opens.

"Conditions this year are favorable for another record harvest because bear populations are up in many parts of the state relative to past years, and hunter participation is expected to be good, based on the number of bear licenses being purchased. The only real unknown is if we will have favorable weather for hunters on opening day."

Bears were taken in 54 counties last year, which was the same as 2008 and 2009, but an increase from 2007, when bears were taken in 49 counties. Of the overall total of 3,090 bears, 269 were taken during the first-ever, five-day statewide archery season and 11 bears weighed 600 pounds or more.

Last year's bear totals for counties in the Northcentral Region, with the 2009 totals in parentheses, are: Clinton, 250 (295); Lycoming, 230 (280); Tioga, 184 (217); Cameron, 138 (214); Potter, 148 (181); Centre, 119 (148); McKean, 92 (142); Clearfield, 182 (135); Elk, 89 (121); and Union, 46 (51).

Closer to home, last year's county totals in the Northeast Region, with the 2009 totals in parentheses, are: Pike, 134 (117); Monroe, 69 (77); Bradford, 38 (74); Sullivan, 57 (68); Carbon, 35 (66); Luzerne, 58 (56); Wayne, 93 (49); Wyoming, 22 (44); Lackawanna, 19 (32); Susquehanna, 41 (30); Columbia, 20 (27); Northumberland, 3 (6); and Montour, 1 (1).

In the Southeast Region, last year's totals with the 2009 totals in parentheses are: Schuylkill, 27 (37); Dauphin, 20 (24); Lebanon, 7 (8); Berks, 2 (7); and Northampton, 7 (5).

Hunters who take a bear must immediately tag it with their field tag that is part of the bear license, and, if during the statewide four-day season or the extended seasons, transport the field-dressed carcass to one of the PGC 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 Game Commission region office within 24 hours to have their bear checked.