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Bear Research Continues

In last week’s column, we looked at the success of several dedicated bear hunters from the Harrisburg area, but as we all know, their success rate hardly represents what most Pennsylvania bear hunters experience. I recently read some new research material that might help explain why only about 2 percent of bear hunters end up filling their tags.

In some recently completed research conducted by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and an Oklahoma State University graduate student, Brandon Snavely, three years were spent putting radio collars on adult female black bears. The research was carried out in the Sproul State Forest in northcentral Pennsylvania from 2019-2021.

What they were trying to determine was how bears used the landscape in heavily hunted areas. Interestingly enough, in the Sproul State Forest, because there are roads, the best access is actually at the top of the heavily forested mountains; thus, most hunters hunted those areas. The scenario at Sproul State Forest, however, is pretty much the opposite of most private lands. It’s probably no surprise, but what the study found was that as fast as hunters entered the woods in numbers, the bears quickly moved to more remote areas.

The northern part of the state offers a lot of large, forested areas, and it’s also true that much of it is open to the public, probably resulting in more organized group drives and hunters.

Much of the area to the south is mixed forests and farms, and most of it is private and not accessible to public hunting.

To be honest, I don’t see much bear hunting in this mixed forest and farm country, and maybe that explains why we seem to be seeing more and more bear activity.

Obviously, gaining access to large tracts of private land might improve your odds of success. On property that is open to hunting, it appears that once the pressure is on, it may pay to go deeper into the less accessible areas.

Understandably, going deeper into less accessible areas creates other obstacles like getting a 300-400 pound critter out of the woods.

In the meantime, more research is about to get underway to determine bear survival rates and the factors influencing those rates.

In July of 2024, the Game Commission will launch a five-million-dollar project involving collaring and monitoring bears throughout the state, including places where it has not been done before. More than 200 bears will be collared and monitored over a five-year period. The study will include both males and females in multiple age classes.

Work is already underway, and 19 bait sites have been established on public and private land in WMU 2F in northwestern Pennsylvania, resulting in the capture of a number of bears.

Of course, there are more bear hunting opportunities now than ever before, especially with the archery and muzzleloader seasons. The regular firearms season is about to open on Nov. 18 and runs to the 21st. With all the bear sightings I’ve had and heard about, it will be interesting to see where the harvest numbers fall this year.