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Black Bear Hunting – Go Figure

Like a lot of hunters in Pennsylvania, I do some bear hunting, but I’m not an overly dedicated bear hunter.

I took a 200-pound cinnamon phase of a black bear in Montana years ago but have never killed a Pennsylvania black bear.

I’ve seen bears on a few occasions while hunting in Pennsylvania, but good shots were not forthcoming, or the bear was too small, and I wasn’t interested in shooting it.

The truth is, however, if you want to take a black bear, especially a big one, Pennsylvania is probably one of your best choices. Pennsylvania’s bear population, even though it may be down a bit over the past few years, is estimated to be somewhere around 16,000 bears, while Maine, known for its good bear numbers, probably ranks somewhere around 25,000 bears. Generally speaking, when it comes to bear harvests, Alaska may be the only state that comes in higher than Pennsylvania and Michigan. Virginia may also give us a run for our money from time to time.

Well, as usual, when the big game hunting seasons are over in Pennsylvania, I like to check out the figures that have been compiled, so here comes the numbers.

In 2022 3,170 bears were taken, which comes in as the 14th highest ever. That’s down from the previous year when 3,621 were taken. The year 2019 was the highest ever, with 4,653. Bears were taken in 58 of the 67 counties and 22 of the 23 different WMUs. I live just outside of Lycoming County, and it often ranks at the top of the bear take; however, this past year, Tioga County was first with 187 bears, and Lycoming was second with 152.

Breaking down the bear harvest numbers by season, we find that 737 bears were taken in the archery season, 712 in the muzzleloader/special firearms season, 1,051 in the general season, 633 in the extended season, and another 7 in the early season. Pennsylvania offers several seasonal opportunities at different times and a variety of weapons possibilities that increase the chances of taking a bear in our state. Those hunting opportunities are probably being recognized in our license sales; last year was our third-highest license sales, with almost 204,000 resident license sales and nearly 1,000 non-resident sales.

When it comes to size, Pennsylvania is hard to beat. Many of our bears are big, one of the reasons being the ample food supply here in our state. The largest black bear taken in 2022 was a 755-pounder taken with a muzzleloader. The heaviest bear ever taken was an 875-pounder taken in Pike County. Since 1992 there have been seven bears taken that weighed at least 800 pounds. If you break it down by county, Monroe County accounted for a 746-pounder and another one of 705 pounds. Potter County followed with one of 693 pounds, then Clearfield County with one of 681 pounds. Clinton County had one of 657 pounds, followed by a 650-pounder from Luzerne County. Bradford County’s 634-pounder barely beat out Lycoming County’s 623-pounder. To put it into perspective, the average bear in Pennsylvania goes around 225 pounds.

The fact that we have so many different tools to use when hunting bears in our state makes it even more interesting and, if you like, even more challenging. I just read an article in Pennsylvania Game News magazine where a guy by the name of Cole Schnably of Bedford County took a bear with an estimated live weight of 681 pounds with a longbow; not a crossbow, not a compound, and not a recurve — an “old-fashioned longbow.” I doubt I’ll try the longbow, but I might put my rifle to work sometime next year.