Spotting a bear in Pennsylvania is certainly not all that unusual, especially in our part of the state. For some of us who live outside of town, seeing a bear or two in the course of a year is no surprise, and in fact, some folks who live in town have reported bear sightings in their yards and driveways. A few years ago, I watched the Game Commission capture a bear that had crossed at the end of the parking lot at the Muncy Hospital and went up a tree next to Route 180. Over the past couple of months, my wife and I have had a black bear set off our front door ring camera; they literally walked within inches of the front door and, on one occasion, in broad daylight.
It’s not surprising that bear sightings seem to be on the increase throughout the state since our estimated bear population is believed to be around 16,000 animals. That estimate is actually down a bit from a few years ago, but that’s still a very healthy population. I might add that Pennsylvania’s bears are some of the heaviest black bears in the lower 48 states, no doubt due to the abundant food supply.
We were not always blessed with these high numbers. For example, between 1915 and 1979, the average bear harvest was 424 bears per season. Compare those harvest numbers to last year’s take of 3,659, and that’s only the state’s fifth-best harvest.
Of course, we not only have more bears, but we also have more bear-hunting opportunities and, in turn, a lot more people hunting bears these days. In addition to some special archery hunting opportunities in a few specified WMUs, our area offers bow hunters a chance to take a bear from Oct. 15 through Nov. 5. The statewide muzzleloader bear season runs from Oct. 15 through the 22, and then a special firearms season for juniors, seniors, and those on active-duty military service from Oct. 20-22. These seasons are then followed by the general statewide bear season, November 19-22, which includes a Sunday hunt. On top of all of that, there are extended bear hunting opportunities in certain WMUs from Nov.26 through Dec. 3 and in some other units from Nov. 26 through Dec. 10; check your regulation booklet to see what units are included.
I’ll admit that I am not an avid bear hunter, but while on a hunt in Montana years ago, I managed to take a 200-pound cinnamon bear which is a different color phase of a black bear. I have that bear mounted, so my thinking now is to hold off unless I can take one considerably bigger. However, my wife has a bear tag and may not be as picky.
If you are looking for a bear this year, you may want to focus your attention on where and what the bears are feeding on during the season you’re hunting. Late summer, they may well have been in the farmers’ fields or maybe even your bird feeders and garbage cans, but as winter approaches, bears are beginning to look for hard masts like acorns and beechnuts. Bears need to pack on some serious weight before winter sets in, and acorns and beechnuts provide those necessary calories.
Where to go? Lycoming, Potter, Tioga, and Pike counties lead the state in bear harvest numbers. Lycoming County is tops, with 212 taken last year and 186 in 2020. Remember, by law, you must report your harvest within 24 hours. There are no check stations open during the earlier special seasons, so you must call the Game Commission’s dispatch center at 1-833-PGC-HUNT or 1-833-PGC-WILD.