After last year’s record bear harvest of 4,653 and with an estimated population of 20,000 bears across Pennsylvania, those unfamiliar with bear hunting might assume that the sport is much easier than it is. ‘it actually is.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, bear hunters in Pennsylvania typically see a success rate of only 2 to 3 percent.
That probably won’t change much even with a record number of participating hunters. The commission sold a record 202,043 bear licenses last year and said sales were 18% higher than last year’s rate as of Oct. 9.
Bear population density rarely exceeds 1 per square mile, according to the commission.
But the species is widespread throughout most of the state. Last year, bears were killed in 58 of 67 counties and 22 of the state’s 23 wildlife management units.
Lycoming County led all other counties with a crop of 284 bears. It was followed by the counties of Clinton and Tioga, both with 267. The other main counties for bear crops in 2019 were Huntingdon, 180; Potter, 174; Lucerne, 163; pike, 161; Bedford, 156; Center, 146; & Warren, 146.
Harvests varied depending on the state’s list of bear hunting seasons. Hunters captured 1,340 bears in the new partially concurrent seasons of muzzleloaders and special firearms; 1,629 in general season; 1,117 in extended seasons; and 561 in the archery season.
The new muzzleloading season led to a harvest of over 1,000 bears, which was unexpected, noted Mark Ternent, a senior bear commission biologist who currently serves as the regional wildlife biologist for the office. from the agency’s north-central region. But the agency will be monitoring the season closely in the years to come to ensure that its contribution to the total harvest does not affect opportunities in other bear hunting seasons.
“Last year’s record bear harvest wiped out 20-25% of the state’s large bear population, but it is not expected to produce a significant drop in the number of bears. ‘bear,’ he said. “We should have close to 20,000 bears across the state.”
In 2019, the Game Commission expanded the hunting possibilities to manage bears more effectively. Previous bear seasons, sometimes affected by weather conditions that limited hunters’ success, just didn’t do the job. With a bear population hovering around 20,000 for several years – and with greater growth potential – the commission said it must increase the pressure on the resource.
A record bear harvest followed.
Last year’s record harvest broke the previous harvest record set in 2011, when 4,350 bears were captured. In 2018, hunters captured a total of 3,153 bears – Pennsylvania’s 11th best bear harvest. The only other year that hunters captured more than 4,000 bears was in 2005, when 4,164 were captured.
“Certainly, it’s hard for some to imagine that Pennsylvania has such a vibrant black bear population,” noted Tom Keller, supervisor of the commission’s Game Mammals section. “But bears are incredibly adaptable. They can adapt to almost anywhere that offers them coverage and reliable food sources. This is why bears are found in more places in Pennsylvania than at any time in the life of the Game Commission.
“It’s hard to understand what goes on in bear hunting in Pennsylvania, especially if you remember when the Game Commission was trying to resuscitate the Commonwealth bear population in the 1980s and ’90s,” noted the executive director of the commission, Bryan Burhans. “But here we are, on the cusp of yet another fall laden with bear hunting opportunities and a robust bear population.
“Bear hunting in Pennsylvania has never offered more opportunity and excitement than it is today,” Burhans said. “Today bears inhabit most counties, offering a hunt closer to home. But their populations also remain strong over their main range in the northern level. “
This year, bear hunting in the state began on September 19 with the first archery seasons in the WMU 2B, 5C and 5D. A first archery season also opened on October 3 in WMU 5B.
The first statewide season, bear archery season runs Oct. 17 through Nov. 7, while muzzleloading bear season runs from Oct. 17 through October 24.
A special firearms season runs from October 22-24 for junior and senior licensees, active duty military personnel, and some disabled license holders.
General bear season statewide will run from November 21-24.
Extended bear seasons will be held in WMUs 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A from November 30 to December 5; and in UGF 2B, 5B 5C and 5D from November 30 to December 12.
If you harvest a bear during one of the 2020 bear hunting seasons and would like to share a photo of you and your trophy, contact Marcus Schneck at mschne[email protected].