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It was a large harvest, and a heavy one.

Pennsylvania hunters harvested a total of 3,748 bears in 2015, the third-highest tally in state history, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported today. And a whopping 68 of those bears topped the 500-pound mark.

The harvest total represents an increase compared to 2014, when 3,371 bears were taken.

With 2015 total now official, the eight largest bear harvests all have occurred in the past decade.

The all-time high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested. Hunters harvested 4,164 in 2005 and 3,510 bears in 2013.

Hunters in 2015 harvested bears in 57 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, an increase compared to 2014, when bears were taken in 56 counties. Bears were taken in 20 of the state’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), and each of the Game Commission’s six regions saw a larger harvest in 2015 compared to the previous year.

The 68 bears harvested weighing 500 pounds or more represents a sharp increase from 2014, when 41 bears taken by hunters reached or exceeded the 500-pound mark.

And 18 bears in the 2015 harvest topped 600 pounds.

Two bears tied for heaviest in the harvest, each weighing an estimated 713 pounds. The first was taken on the Nov. 21 statewide opener in Blair Township, Blair County, by Richard A. Watt, of Gallitzin, Pa. The second was taken Nov. 23 in Granville Township, Mifflin County, by Gregory A. Wilson, of Lewistown.

Rounding out the 2015 list of the top 10 heaviest bears were an estimated 685-pound male taken Nov. 21 in Letterkenny Township, Franklin County by Dustin J. Foust, of Orrstown, Pa.; a 652-pound male taken in Todd Township, Fulton County, on the Nov. 16 opener of the statewide bear archery season by Garry E. Miller Jr., of McConnellsburg, Pa.; a 649-pound male taken in Limestone Township, Warren County, by Matthew B. Stanga, of Tarentum, Pa.; a 648-pound male taken in Brush Creek Township, Fulton County, by Andrew D. Fischer, of Crystal Spring, Pa.; a 640-pound male taken in Weatherly Township, Carbon County, by Kenneth J. Mehlig, of Weatherly, Pa.; a 632-pound male taken Nov. 24 in Worth Township, Centre County by Chad A. Seeger of Port Matilda, Pa.; a 631-pound male taken Nov. 25 in Hillsgrove Township, Sullivan County by Skyler M. Hubler, of Dushore, Pa.; and a 629-pound male taken Nov. 24 in Greene Township, Pike County by John Gilpin, of Newfoundland, Pa.

Lycoming County, perennially among the top counties for bear harvests again led the way with 312 harvests in 2014, up from 286 the previous year. Among other top counties for bear harvests in 2015 were: Clinton, 265 (179 in 2014); Tioga 196 (275); Pike 180 (111); and Centre, 162 (117).

The four-day general season again set the pace for the overall harvest, with 2,724 bears being taken during that season. But the extended seasons and the archery bear season also contributed to the totals.

Statewide, 803 bears were harvested in extended seasons while 209 were taken during the archery bear season.

Pike County claimed the highest harvest in extended seasons, with 56 bears taken after the close of the general statewide bear season. Other top counties, and their harvest totals during the extended seasons, were: Wayne, 52; Tioga, 51; Lycoming, 50; Luzerne, 49; and Bradford, 46.

Final county harvests by region (with 2014 figures in parentheses) are:

Northwest – 455 (394): Warren, 126 (100); Forest, 77 (41); Venango, 76 (71); Clarion, 69 (54); Jefferson, 59 (56); Butler, 22 (28); Crawford, 13 (26); Mercer, 8 (5); and Erie, 5 (13).

Southwest – 317 (312): Somerset, 102 (109); Fayette, 87 (103); Armstrong, 41 (35); Cambria, 31 (15); Westmoreland, 27 (29); Indiana, 22 (19); Allegheny, 6 (2); and Beaver, 1 (0).

Northcentral – 1,436 (1,383): Lycoming, 312 (286); Clinton, 265 (179); Tioga, 196 (275); Centre, 162 (117); Clearfield, 114 (72); Potter 97 (157); McKean, 95 (100); Elk, 79 (79); Cameron, 78 (76); and Union, 38 (42).

Southcentral – 452 (391): Huntingdon, 120 (89); Bedford, 74 (70); Blair, 43 (41); Juniata, 41 (28); Fulton, 39 (28); Mifflin, 37 (42); Perry, 36 (56); Franklin, 26 (19); Snyder, 26 (14); Cumberland, 10 (4); and Adams, 0 (1).

Northeast – 965 (795): Pike, 180 (111); Luzerne, 123 (75); Wayne, 107 (87); Bradford, 103 (108); Monroe, 101 (79); Sullivan, 73 (76); Carbon, 60 (47); Wyoming, 60 (55); Susquehanna, 59 (74); Lackawanna, 41 (51); Columbia, 38 (23); Northumberland, 20 (8); and Montour, 1 (1).

Southeast – 123 (95): Dauphin, 52 (35); Schuylkill, 45 (39); Northampton, 13 (9); Lebanon, 5 (2); Berks, 3 (6); Lehigh 3 (4); and Bucks, 1 (0).

The final bear harvests by Wildlife Management Unit (with final 2014 figures in parentheses) were: WMU 1A, 22 (12); WMU 1B, 65 (90); WMU 2A, 3 (1) WMU 2B, 7 (3); WMU 2C, 286 (291); WMU 2D, 168 (148); WMU 2E, 46 (48); WMU 2F, 337 (262); WMU 2G, 718 (623); WMU 2H, 67 (68); WMU 3A, 173 (286); WMU 3B, 370 (366); WMU 3C, 180 (168); WMU 3D, 417 (296); WMU 4A, 139 (106); WMU 4B, 133 (142); WMU 4C, 164 (120); WMU 4D, 361 (261); WMU 4E, 81 (64); WMU 5A, 0 (4); and WMU 5C, 10 (12).

The Game Commission handled and tagged more than 900 bears statewide in Pennsylvania last year, and the percentage of those bears harvested by hunters suggests the state’s bear population grew between 2014 and 2015, said agency bear biologist Mark Ternent.

The state’s bear population had held stable at about 18,000 from 2008 to 2014.

But in 2014, harsh weather greeted bear hunters in much of the state during the general bear season opener, and this fact likely contributes to the bear population bumping to an estimated 20,000 animals, Ternent said. The last time the population bumped after several years of a stable population trend, it also did so after a year after harsh weather during bear season, Ternent said.

A record number of bear licenses – 175,314 – were sold in 2015, as well, continuing a trend of an increasing number of bear hunters.

Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the growing interest in bear hunting isn’t surprising given the recent string of top harvests, and the future for bear hunting looks as bright as ever.

“It might sound like a broken record, but, truly, there has never been a better time to hunt bears in Pennsylvania,” Hough said. “Each year, another top harvest is added to the record books, and the largest one yet very possibly might be around the corner.”

What a decade for bear hunting

The 2015 Pennsylvania bear harvest, the third-largest in state history, joined other recent seasons near the top of the record books. With the totals now official, the eight of the top 10 harvests all have occurred in the last decade. Here’s a look:

Top Pennsylvania bear harvests

  1. 4,350 – 2011
  2. 4,164 – 2005
  3. 3,748 – 2015
  4. 3,623 – 2012
  5. 3,512 – 2009
  6. 3,510 – 2013
  7. 3,458 – 2008
  8. 3,366 – 2014

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