With over 200,000 bear hunters heading out on this past Saturday’s opening day of the regular bear firearms season, it’s apparent that it ranks right behind our deer season. Obviously, it’s very popular in our state, and northcentral Pennsylvania holds some of the state’s best bear hunting opportunities.
Lycoming County often leads the state in the number of bears taken, but with the bear seasons still ongoing, Tioga County leads with 139 bears, and Lycoming has 114 thus far.
The first two days of our regular statewide firearms accounted for 651 bears on Saturday, and another 180 checked in on Sunday. While this year will again account for a good bear harvest, I suspect last year’s take of 3,659, our fifth highest ever, will account for more.
I am also hearing and reading of some reports of some pretty good-sized bears again being taken this year. As I’ve mentioned before, Pennsylvania doesn’t have to take a back seat to any other state when it comes to size. Last year a 681-pounder was taken in Luzerne County, and a 722-pounder was killed in Franklin County. Our heaviest ever recorded was an 875-pounder taken in Pike County in 2010. Since 1992 seven bears weighing at least 800 pounds each have been taken in our state.
According to the Game Commission, our bear population also remains pretty stable. While the population numbers may be down a bit this year, we still had an estimated population of over 15,000 — pushing the 16,000 mark. As a lot of us know, there is no shortage of bear sightings in our area; I have two different sightings recorded on camera of bears walking right by my front door — one in broad daylight.
Why the good numbers? Besides the good bear habitat our state offers, we also have a broad food supply and, in recent years, even more, bear hunting opportunities than ever before. In addition to some even earlier archery hunting opportunities in a few WMUs in the southern part of the state, our statewide archery season runs from Oct. 15-Nov. 5. Muzzleloader for bear statewide is from Oct. 15-22, followed by our regular firearms season statewide from Nov.19-22. That’s not all; we have extended seasons in certain WMUs running from Nov. 26 to Dec. 3 or Dec. 10, depending on which units you are looking at.
A reminder, too, bear check procedures are changing a bit. The Game Commission will only operate bear check stations on the first two days of the regular bear season (Sat. and Sun.) rather than all four days. Hunters who harvest a bear other than those two days must have them checked by calling the commission dispatch center at 1-833-PGC-HUNT or 1-833-PGC-WILD, and a game warden or biologist will meet and collect the necessary information. According to the Game Commission, operating the bear check stations is costly and labor-intensive, so the change is about efficiency and customer service. Running the bear check stations on the first two days of the regular season captures the greatest percentage of the harvest.
While we have a good population of bears, keep in mind they have a lot of room to roam and hide. Only three percent of the bear hunters are successful each year, so you are still going to have to put some time and effort into the hunt.