Pa. bear hunting a hidden treasure

The York Dispatch

The early results are in, and once again, Pennsylvania’s bear season remains a hidden treasure.

Year after year, our state's hunters pull some of the nation’s biggest black bears out of Penn's Woods. Yet, if you ask hunters from across the country about the great bear-hunting opportunities within our state, I bet their faces will go blank.

We simply aren’t known as a great bear state. But after a couple more seasons like the one we just put in the history books, that may change.

While the results won’t be official until later this winter, the early results are impressive. The bear counters tell us 2,693 of the furry beasts were taken. And, in a number that will surprise many Pennsylvanians, bears were harvested in 54 of the state’s 67 counties. In other words, good bear hunting is much closer to home than you think.

Perhaps the most impressive numbers, though, represent the size of some of this year’s bears. At least 10 had estimated live weights of 618 pounds or more. For the novices reading this, that’s a big bear. A really big bear.

The average weight for male black bears across the country is about 300 pounds. Many of the bears taken in Pennsylvania would be records in more “traditional” bear-hunting states.

The award for the biggest bear actually goes to two hunters. It’s a tie. Greg Wilson shot his 713-pound bear in Mifflin County, while Richard Watt shot his bear of the same weight in Blair County’s woods.

Wondering where you should head next year to have the best odds of taking advantage of Pennsylvania’s great bear hunting? Head north. The top bear-hunting county was Lycoming County, with 237 bears harvested. Hunters in Clinton County took 224 bears.

A popular question this time of the year is how do we know so much so soon after the season ended? After all, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is forced to use best-guess estimates for the state’s deer harvest, yet we know the weight of every bear killed this year.

The answer is simple, yet filled with debate — especially as deer season winds down. The law states we have to take all of our harvested bears to designated check stations. With around 3,000 bears taken each year, it’s a busy, yet manageable task.

With deer, on the other hand, it’s a tall order. Each year, more than 300,000 deer are harvested by hunters. Counting all of them would be much more complicated. Yet, some states spend the money and the effort to record whitetail kills. But Pennsylvania is not one of them.

Instead, we rely on after-the-fact reports from hunters. Hunters are asked to report our harvests — by mail, phone or the Internet — but the Game Commission says just 40 percent of the state’s hunters make the effort. That means, unlike the accuracy inherent in the bear figures, whitetail managers are forced to use rough estimates each year.

If you were lucky enough to harvest a deer this year, use this as a reminder to report your kill. Do your fellow hunters a favor and report your harvest.

Better yet, use these figures as a reminder of how lucky we are to live in a state with such great bear hunting. But don’t let the secret out. The crowds will come soon enough.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at