This is the golden age of Pennsylvania bear hunting.
At least that's the word from the state's Game Commission.
Since the Game Commission began keeping records of statewide bear harvests in 1915, there has never been a more prolific period for Commonwealth black bear hunters.
Pennsylvania hunters harvested 3,529 bears in 2016, the fifth-highest tally in state history. Sixty of those bears weighed 500 pounds or more — 17 exceeded 600 pounds.
The 2016 overall bear harvest was similar to 2015, when 3,748 bears, including 68 weighing 500 pounds or more, were taken.
The all-time bear harvest high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested.
The Game Commission estimated the bear population before bear hunting seasons to be about 20,000, which is unusually high. A change in weather conditions on the bear-season opener likely had some impact on the harvest, said Mark Ternent, agency bear biologist.
“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. The season was well within the state’s four-year average for bear harvests.”
Ternent considered the harvest typical.
“But we do need to increase the bear harvest, that’s why the agency has preliminarily approved moving up the archery bear season, to run concurrently with the deer archery season, when more hunters are usually in the woods,” he said.
A reduced harvest on the 2014 general bear season opener, also caused by unforgiving weather, likely contributed to the bear population bumping to an estimated 20,000. Prior to 2015, the bear population stabilized at about 18,000 for about six years. 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.
Big bears: The largest bear taken in the harvest weighed an estimated 740 pounds. It was taken in Rayne Township, Indiana County, on Nov. 18 during the archery bear season by Dustin R. Learn, of Home. It was one of three bears taken by a hunters that exceeded 700 pounds in the 2016 seasons. The three bears were the first to exceed 700 pounds since 2013. In 2011, Pennsylvania’s record harvest year, an amazing eight bears exceeding 700 pounds were taken by hunters.
David Price, of Cresco, Pa., harvested the largest bear ever taken in the state in 2010. Harvested with a bow and arrow, the bear weighed an estimated 876 pounds. It was taken in Monroe County.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said Pennsylvania’s black bears continue to inspire interest in bear hunting.
“Our bears are so big, and so plentiful, it’s hard not to get excited about hunting for them,” Hough said. “Many deer and turkey hunters have become Pennsylvania bear hunters because of the bears and bear sign they see while afield. It’s a pursuit with undeniable excitement and huge rewards. ... It seems only a matter of time before a hunter with another 800 pounder comes to one of our check stations.”
Although behind Clinton County in bear harvest at the conclusion of the general firearms bear season, Lycoming County finished with 243 bears to take the top county bear harvest. It was followed by Clinton County with 220. Other top counties for bear harvests in 2016 were: Tioga, 169; Potter, 149; Warren, 131; and Somerset, 116.
Following are the final bear totals for the counties closest to York:
Southcentral — 436 (452): Huntingdon, 90 (120); Bedford, 73 (74); Perry, 66 (36); Juniata, 51 (41); Mifflin, 40 (37); Fulton, 33 (39); Blair, 32 (43); Snyder, 24 (26); Franklin, 22 (26); Cumberland, 5 (10); and Adams, 0 (0).
Southeast — 113 (123): Dauphin, 47 (52); Schuylkill, 44 (45); Northampton, 8 (13); Lebanon, 7 (5); Bucks, 4 (1); Berks, 2 (3); and Lehigh 1 (3).
By the numbers: Following are Pennsylvania's 10 largest bear harvests:
1. 4,350, 2011.
2. 4,164, 2005.
3. 3,748, 2015.
4. 3,623, 2012.
5. 3,529, 2016.
6. 3,512, 2009.
7. 3,510, 2013.
8. 3,458, 2008.
9. 3,366, 2014.
10. 3,124, 2006.
Information for this story was supplied by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.