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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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Pennsylvania’s Ultimate Big Game?

Those of us who hunt wild turkeys here in our home state of Pennsylvania often consider this bird to be the ultimate game to pursue. Whitetail deer hunters are without a doubt even more fanatical about naming deer as the greatest game animal within our state’s borders. And, yes, we are very fortunate to have

Those of us who hunt wild turkeys here in our home state of Pennsylvania often consider this bird to be the ultimate game to pursue. Whitetail deer hunters are without a doubt even more fanatical about naming deer as the greatest game animal within our state’s borders. And, yes, we are very fortunate to have a huntable population of elk, but it is a really long shot to draw a tag and take one of these magnificent creatures. That leaves the black bear to be considered.

Ursus americanus, or black bear, is the species of bear that is spread widely throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico and is found in increasing numbers here in Pennsylvania. Normally black in color, they are sometimes seen in other color phases, such as rust, blond, or cinnamon. While these colors are normally found out west or in Canada, they do occur here in our state.

While they can be found throughout the state, even in some residential areas, their numbers are greatest right here in the northern tier counties. Currently, the state’s population is estimated at around 20,000 black bears. Relatively milder winters the past few years, along with excellent mast crops — particularly acorns — and a steady production of field corn that has kept them well fed have helped to account for their increasing population.

It appears that bear license numbers should reach 170,000 to 175,000 for this 2018 license year, and would thus position hunters to reach a record harvest this season. Bear hunters in the 2017-18 season managed to take 3,438 black bears, which ranked ninth all-time for numbers taken. Last year, bears were taken in 57 or our state’s 67 counties. The counties with the largest numbers of bear harvested were: Lycoming, 252 bears; Tioga, 214; Pike, 193; Potter, 161; Sullivan, 156 and Clinton, 153.

Pennsylvania is well known for producing some very large bears. Last year, 48 of these bruins weighed in at over 500 pounds! Two of them exceeded 700 pounds! Since 1986, 32 bears have been recorded in the 700 plus pound weight class. While it takes on average about nine years for a bear to reach 500 pounds, it is anticipated that an 800-pound plus bear will be taken again this year. Currently, Pennsylvania is number two among all states and Canadian provinces in the number of black bear entries in the Boone & Crockett Club record books. Last year alone, 22 Pennsylvania black bears were entered into the club’s records.

Our 2018 regular firearms statewide bear season opens on Saturday, November 17th, and then runs from Monday to Wednesday, November 19-21. With just a couple of days until the season begins, there is still time to scout the areas you plan to hunt to locate fresh signs of bear presence.

Forests that are predominantly oak, both red and white, should be a good area to locate bear activity. When they are not gobbling up acorns to help put on that all-important layer of fat to fuel them through the winter, they will probably be raiding nearby cornfields. A check with area farmers just may turn up someone who would really like for a hunter or two to help eliminate a bear that might be devastating some of his standing corn.

While it is possible — with a good deal of luck on your side — to hunt black bear by yourself, your chance for success is greatly multiplied when hunting with other hunters. If your only choice is to hunt alone, then try to set up in an area of oak trees on a bench or side hill that overlooks a standing cornfield. Hopefully, you can gather a gang of fellow hunters to up your odds for success. Putting on bear drives is both a popular and highly successful way to hunt black bears. Focus your drives in areas of heavy cover such as mountain laurel since this is where these bruins will tend to hole up.

Keep in mind that if you are lucky enough to take one of these animals, black bear meat makes excellent table fare. You may not believe it, but prepared and cooked properly, it is very tasty. I have frequently attended game dinners over the years where turkey, venison and bear meat were served to the hungry attendees. More often than not, the bear meat was the first to disappear.

Be prepared for raw, rainy, snowy, icy bone-chilling weather as that is what usually comes your way during the bear season. Dress in layers if you are planning to spend the day hunting, and if luck is with you, there is a good chance you might just take one of Pennsylvania’s ultimate trophy game animals!

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