Northampton Press

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Press photo by Nick Hromiak According to the PGC, there are now bears in 56 of the state's 67 counties. Press photo by Nick Hromiak According to the PGC, there are now bears in 56 of the state's 67 counties.

Bear season set to begin

Thursday, November 14, 2013 by NICK HROMIAK Special to the Press in Sports

It seems like just last week we were having summer weather. So it's hard to believe the third part of the big game season gets underway Monday, Nov. 18, when bear become legal game.

Actually, the season came early for at least one bowhunter who managed to arrow a 240-pound female bear during the early archery season that began Sept. 21 in WMU 5C.

For those hunters who didn't score during the five-day bear season that closes Nov. 22, they'll have another shot at a bruin when the four-day general season opens Saturday, Nov. 23, then runs from Monday, Nov. 25 to Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Last years harvest of 3,632 bears was the third largest in state history according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). This follows the all-time harvest of 4,350 during the 2011 season.

The PGC estimates that there are between 16,000-18,000 bears in the state, which, says the PGC, helps contribute to large harvests. This is one reason out-of-state hunters come to the Keystone State to hunt bears. And from hunters who have traveled to Canada and Maine to hunt bear, the odds of scoring a Pennsylvania bruin are a little better and the bear are bigger.

For hunters looking for a county to hunt, Mark Ternent, PGC bear biologist said, "Nowadays it's getting increasingly harder to identify our so-called best bear hunting counties, because opportunities are becoming increasingly better throughout so much of the state. In 2012 there were bears harvested in 56 of the state's 67 counties, a condition that wasn't possible 30 years ago when bear populations were more concentrated in core areas of northcentral and northeastern Pennsylvania."

As such, hunters may have to reclassify what used to be considered "bear country" of yesteryear. Said Ternent, "It's not a case where there are only a few areas where a hunter might get close to a bear. That opportunity exists throughout much of the state, and in areas some might not expect."

In an effort to curb bear conflicts (garbage can raids, bird feeder damage, pet maulings) and vehicle accidents (if you think a deer can do extensive vehicle damage, can you imagine what a bear can do?), extended bear seasons were enacted in WMU's 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D during for archery, early muzzleloader and firearms deer seasons. And sportsmen hunting in WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C, 4C, 4D, 4E can shoot a bear – if properly licensed – during the firearms deer season.

To increase your chances of success, Ternent suggests hunting near available food sources, and with a spotty acorn crop this year, preseason scouting might make the difference. "Locating acorns might result in finding a bear nearby. Hunters might need to do more homework this year as bears will shift around to find food whether it's acorns, beechnuts, black cherry or agricultural fields. But that doesn't mean hunters who head to their usual spots won't find bear sign; they just might see more or less of it depending on local food conditions."

Ternent goes on to say that there's no reason to believe 2013 doesn't hold the potential for another record harvest.

Of course hunter success is often due to the number of bears in a given area, number of hunters and of course weather.

And when speaking of Pennsylvania having big bears, Ternent recounts that last years harvest included 45 bears weighing 500 pounds or more, five of which surpassed the 600-pound mark. The heaviest reported was a Monroe County 709 pounder.

Ternent confirmed that there are bears out there weighing in excess of 800 pounds. Hunters just have to find them.

The PGC reminds hunters that if you're a last minute decider, they can still purchase a bear license at an authorized licensing agent. Or online at the PGC's Outdoor Shop but keep in mind that an ear tag must be mailed. And if successful, the bear must be taken to a check station as listed in the Hunting/Trapping Digest provided with each general license.

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