RENOVA — A strong case can be made that bear hunters in Pennsylvania place a high level of importance on the overall experience of the hunt as a reason for their participation rather than the expectation of filling a tag.
While there are some groups and camps that enjoy repeated success in taking a bear — or multiple bears — almost every year, the majority of bear hunters go afield with nothing more than the hope of seeing a bear. Conversely, those who hunt everything from deer to squirrels and anything else that runs or flies does so with expectations of success.
In most years more than 175,000 hunters buy a bear license in addition to their general hunting license, which puts in perspective that even in those years when more than 4,000 bears are taken that those filling a tag are indeed the chosen few. According to Pennsylvania Game Commission bear biologist the statewide bear population of approximately 20,000 is stable and even if 25 percent of that population was taken in the combined seasons it would not have an adverse effect because of the high reproductive rate of Pennsylvania black bears.
Chances of hunters taking a total of 5,000 bears in the combined seasons consisting of the early concurrent archery and muzzleloader seasons, the recent week-long archery season the upcoming four-day firearms and concurrent bear-deer seasons are remote, at best. Considering the all-time record is 4,350 bears taken in 2011, approaching such a lofty total would require dedicated and persistent hunter participation, as well as nearly perfect weather conditions across the state.
Last year bears were taken in 58 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, which was an increase of one county from 2015, 20 of the state’s 23 Wildlife Management Units. What this means is hunters in nearly every corner of the state have the opportunity to pursue bears and sleep in their own bed at night.
For thousands, however, the only way to have the total experience of a Pennsylvania bear hunt is by traveling north to the mountains of what is still considered the traditional bear range. Some call it “Bear Country,” some call it “God’s Country,” but all call it special.
What makes the treks north for bear season is the down-home, good-time feeling that is associated with visiting a PGC bear check station and listening to the accounts and yarns — both factual and embellished — of other hunters. It simply gets no better then when a check station is located at community centers or volunteer fire companies where a menu of home-style cooking awaits and is an attraction in its own right.
PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent believes the total of 2,601 taken last year during the four-day general season was negatively affected by adverse weather conditions. Many hunters were driven from the field on opening day, which now attracts many junior hunters because of the Saturday opener.
“We had terrible weather on the opener in the afternoon,” Ternent said. “It probably is what separated us from an average or above-average season.
“Still, if anything stands out about the 2016 season, it was nearly identical to the 2015 season and was well within the state’s four-year average. We felt there was a need to increase the number of bears taken this year, which is why the agency approved moving up the archery bear season to run concurrently with the next-to-last week of archery deer season when more hunters are usually in the woods.
“If there are a record number of bears, a record number of hunters and a record acorn crop, we could be in store for a truly remarkable year of bear hunting. “Without a doubt, a record total is within reach.”
(Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association)