A few years ago, American Hunter, one of the magazines published by the National Rifle Association, rated Pennsylvania as one of the top five states in the Lower 48 as a destination for bear hunters.

Even without baiting and hunting with dogs being legal, Pennsylvania still rated high with the editors of the magazine. What makes the ranking even more impressive is that when the article appeared, the Pennsylvania Game Commission had not yet established the statewide archery bear season.

Beginning Monday, the five-day archery bear season is open through Friday, Nov. 16. Then, the statewide, four-day firearms bear season opens Saturday, Nov. 17, and continues Monday-Wednesday, Nov. 19-21.

Following the two statewide season, extended bear seasons will be held in certain wildlife management units during all or portions of the firearms deer season, which opens Monday, Nov. 26. In WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, an extended bear season will run concurrently with the entire two-week deer season, which ends Saturday, Dec. 8.

This extended season is in addition to overlapping bear and deer hunting opportunities held in these four WMUs during the archery deer and early muzzleloader and firearms deer seasons. These seasons were approved by the board of game commissioners as a means of achieving the PGC's goal of reducing bear-human conflicts in these urbanized areas of southwestern and southeastern corners of the state.

An extended bear season will be held November 26-December 1 in all of WMUs 3A and 3C and portions of WMUs 2G and 3B. An extended bear season will be held November 28-December 1 in WMUs 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E.

"Pennsylvania's bear population covers more than three-quarters of the state, and includes a number of world-class trophy bears," PGC executive director Carl Roe 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. There is always the possibility of another 800-pounder being taken by a hunter during Pennsylvania's bear seasons.

In 2011, hunters harvested a record of 4,350 bears, surpassing the 4,164 taken in 2005, and for the last four years bears have been taken in 54 counties.

Over the past 10 years, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the PGC began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.

"Conditions this year are favorable for another record harvest," PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent said. "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.

"This year's acorn crops are above average, which keeps bears out of hibernation longer and available to hunters. Really, the only unknown is if we will have favorable weather for hunting on the opening day of the firearms season, when, traditionally, the most bears are taken."

Last year's combined bear harvest by WMU for both the archery and firearms bear seasons, with 2010's harvest results in parentheses, are: WMU 1A, 13 (11); WMU 1B, 64 (42); WMU 2A, 0 (1); WMU 2B, 1 (0); WMU 2C, 226 (307); WMU 2D, 150 (146); WMU 2E, 79 (94); WMU 2F, 345 (202); WMU 2G, 1,086 (894); WMU 3A, 564 (199); WMU 3B, 479 (234); WMU 3C, 299 (118); WMU 3D, 318 (284); WMU 4A, 72 (135); WMU 4B, 70 (55); WMU 4C, 148 (90); WMU 4D, 355 (245); WMU 4E, 79 (31); WMU 5A, 1 (0); and WMU 5C, 1 (2).

Last year's final bear harvest by PGC Region, with 2010 harvest in parentheses, are: Northwest: Warren, 119 (54); Forest, 90 (47); Venango, 56 (57); Clarion, 47 (49); Jefferson, 45 (34); Crawford, 16 (10); Butler, 9 (12); Erie, 7 (3); and Mercer, 6 (2). Southwest: Somerset, 75 (83); Fayette, 67 (101); Armstrong, 66 (56); Cambria, 35 (18); Indiana, 33 (43); Westmoreland, 24 (62); and Allegheny, 1 (0). Northcentral: Potter 399 (148); Tioga, 381 (184); Lycoming, 336 (230); McKean, 258 (92); Clinton, 205 (250); Clearfield, 154 (182); Elk, 153 (89); Centre, 129 (119); Cameron, 100 (138); and Union, 49 (46). Southcentral: Huntingdon, 73 (95); Bedford, 55 (84); Mifflin, 48 (43); Juniata, 33 (19); Blair, 32 (31); Snyder, 29 (19); Fulton, 15 (11); Franklin, 13 (8); Perry, 13 (17); Cumberland, 4 (1). Northeast: Wayne, 208 (93); Sullivan, 180 (57); Bradford, 126 (38); Pike, 116 (134); Luzerne, 99 (58); Susquehanna, 92 (41); Monroe, 88 (69); Wyoming, 57 (22); Carbon, 45 (35); Columbia, 26 (20); Lackawanna, 25 (19); and Northumberland, 11 (3). Southeast: Dauphin, 46 (20); Schuylkill, 34 (27); Lebanon, 13 (7); Northampton, 4 (7); Lehigh 3 (0); and Berks, 2 (2).