Pennsylvania hunters have set a new state bear-harvest record.
Although numbers are continuing to come in, and bear hunting remains open through Saturday in some of the state’s Wildlife Management Units, as of Monday morning, the 2019 preliminary bear harvest sat at 4,577.
The state’s previous record bear harvest occurred in 2011, when hunters took 4,350 through a slate of bear seasons. Hunters also harvested 4,164 in 2005.
All of those figures are according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Expanded hunting opportunities provided by new special-firearms and muzzleloader bear seasons and an expanded archery bear season were credited by the Game Commission with helping push the 2019 bear harvest to the record.
Looking to keep down bear population: Record bear license sales also may have contributed. License sales currently exceed 200,000. Previously, the state had high license sales of between 170,000 and 175,000. The statewide bear population at the start of the bear-hunting seasons was estimated by the Game Commission at about 20,000 bears.
“Our goal was to offer more hunting opportunities and prevent Pennsylvania’s bear population from increasing,” Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans said in a news release. “The response from hunters to the expanded seasons and the success they enjoyed afield were exciting to see.”
More opportunities to hunt bears: Black bears appear to be thriving in Pennsylvania, but in a state with 12 million residents, concern about additional bear population gains compelled the Game Commission earlier this year to double the number of statewide bear-hunting days, creating the state’s lengthiest bear-hunting opportunity since the 1930s.
“It’s the largest suite of bear-season changes ever approved in a single year,” said Matt Lovallo, the Game Commission's Game Mammals Section supervisor in the news release. “In most of the state, we’re going from 14 or 16 days of bear hunting to 32, from three Saturdays to seven, and we started hunting bears almost two weeks earlier.”
The additional days and increased number of bear hunters appear to have made a significant difference. Good weather on peak hunting days also helped.
The 2018 bear harvest came in at 3,153 bears, 11th-best all-time, but also the lowest bear harvest in the past 11 years. Bad weather negatively affected hunting conditions on key hunting days.
Biggest bear taken weighed more than 800 pounds: The largest bear through all 2019 seasons is the 813-pound male taken with a rifle on the opening day of the general season in Smithfield Township, Monroe County, by Victor M. Vassalluzzo of Kintnersville.
The heaviest bear ever taken in Pennsylvania was an 875-pounder harvested in 2010 in Middle Smithfield Township, Pike County. Since 1992, seven black bears weighing at least 800 pounds have been lawfully harvested in Pennsylvania hunting seasons.
Other large bears taken in the 2019 bear general and extended bear seasons – all taken with a rifle – include: a 747-pound male taken in Wright Township, Luzerne County, by J. Kripp Jr., of Mountaintop; and a 743-pound male taken in Greene Township, Pike County, by Matthew J. Erdie Jr., of Nazareth.
Top bear-hunting counties: Bears were taken in 59 counties. Lycoming County led the state with 283, followed by Clinton County with 267 and Tioga County with 261.
There was one bear taken in York County this season and 11 taken in neighboring Adams County. There were 27 bears harvested in nearby Cumberland County and 66 in Dauphin County.
Final bear harvest numbers will be provided in early 2020 after biologists confirm and crosscheck harvest records. For now, it’s clear hunters have set a record bear harvest.
Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.