Beginning Monday, the second-longest big game season in Pennsylvania gets underway statewide with the opening of the five-day archery bear season. That is followed by the Saturday, Nov. 23, opening of the four-day statewide firearms bear season, which resumes Monday-Wednesday, Nov. 25-27.

Already there have been a total of 49 days of bear hunting in specific Wildlife Management Units during the archery, antlerless muzzleloader and special firearms deer seasons. By the time the concurrent deer and bear seasons end Saturday, Dec. 14, in specific WMUs during the two-week statewide firearms deer season, which opens Monday, Dec. 2, hunters will have had a total of 70 days to hunt bears somewhere in Pennsylvania.

According to Pennsylvania Game Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent, there has been plenty of reasons to get excited about bear hunting in recent years. Last year the 3,632 bears taken statewide is the third-largest in state history and follows the all-time record of 4,350 bears set in 2011.

A growing bear population now numbers 16,000 to 18,000 and expanded hunting opportunities in recent years have contributed to hunter success. Ternent said the combination has helped to create a sweet spot in time for in-state bear hunting.

"In Pennsylvania's history, there's never been a better time to hunt bears," Ternent said. "Nowadays it's getting increasingly harder to identify our so-called best bear hunting counties, because opportunities are becoming increasingly better throughout so much of the state."

In 2012, for example, hunters took bears in 56 of the state's 67 counties, and Pennsylvania routinely has been seeing them taken in 50 counties or more, and bear-hunting success across the state is something Ternent said simply was not possible 30 years ago, when bear populations were more concentrated in core areas of northcentral and northeastern Pennsylvania. Today's expanded range has many Pennsylvanians reclassifying what they consider "bear country" and where they might choose to hunt.

"It's not a case where there are only a few areas where a hunter might get close to a bear," Ternent said. "That opportunity exists throughout much of the state, and in areas some might not expect."

A complete list of opening and closing days of the various bear seasons is printed on Page 36 of the "2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest" issued to hunters when they purchase their licenses, and on PGC website at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/. All bears taken must be reported to the agency.

Hunters who take a bear during the four-day general season must take it to one of the PGC's check stations within 24 hours. Taking bears to a check station also might be required in WMUs where bear hunting is permitted during all or a portion of the firearms deer season.

A complete list of requirements, check stations and their dates and hours of operation is printed on Pages 37 and 38 of the "Hunting & Trapping Digest." Hunters who take a bear during the bear archery season or in any other period where check stations are closed must within 24 hours contact the PGC region office that serves the county in which the bear was taken for checking instructions.

Ternent said bear hunters up their chances of success by hunting near available food sources, and with a spotty acorn crop this year, preseason scouting might make the difference. Locating acorns might result in finding a bear nearby.

"Hunters might need to do more homework than usual this year," Ternent said. "Bears will shift around to find food, and those hunters who scout for areas with better foods, whether it's acorns, beechnuts, black cherry or agricultural fields, will have an advantage."