Pennsylvania's 2020 bear harvest sees 20% reduction compared to record 2019 season

The Pennsylvania bear harvest was down 20% during the 2020 seasons.

Pennsylvania hunters took 3,608 black bears in the 2020 seasons, the state’s sixth-best bear harvest ever.

That's according to numbers provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The harvest is about 20% lower than last year’s record harvest of 4,653 bears. Nevertheless, it aligns with the annual average of 3,675 bears taken over the past five seasons. In fact, it’s the second-highest harvest in that period.

In the bear archery season, which benefited from a one-week-longer season, bowhunters set a new harvest record of 948, breaking the former record of 561 set in 2019.

Harvest numbers in the other bear seasons fell, which the Game Commission said is not uncommon. The two-year-old muzzleloader/special firearms seasons harvest slipped from 1,340 to 1,038; the general firearms season harvest went from 1,629 to 1,170; and the extended-season harvest, which typically is inconsistent, went from 1,117 to 432.

Living with Black Bears

Often influenced by fall food availability, weather and hunter actions, the Game Commission said bear harvests historically have changed abruptly from one year to the next. The harvest decline from 2019 to 2020 marks the second time in 20 years the bear harvest in back-to-back years has decreased by 1,000 or more bears. The annual bear harvest also has increased by 1,000 bears four times over the same period.

Three times in the past 20 years, Pennsylvania’s annual bear harvest has exceeded 4,000 bears. In each subsequent harvest year, the harvest dropped by hundreds of bears. After the record harvest of 4,311 in 2011, the harvest dropped to 3,632; after 2005’s record harvest of 4,164, the harvest slipped to 3,124 in 2006.

“This ebb-and-flow has appeared in Pennsylvania bear harvests for the past century,” said Emily Carrollo, the Game Commission bear biologist, in a news release. “It’s the nature and reality of bear hunting.”

The agency will analyze factors that might have affected last fall’s bear harvest in the months to come through surveys, field work and research projects, Carrollo said. That work seeks out hunter preferences, examines fall food availability and measures the effectiveness of the state’s slate of bear seasons on black bears, particularly pregnant females.

By the numbers: Bears were taken in 59 of 67 counties and 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) in the 2020 season.

The largest bear through all 2020 seasons is the 719-pound male taken with a crossbow on Nov. 7 in Ayr Township, Fulton County, by Abby Strayer, of McConnellsburg.

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.

Potter County finished with 188 bears to take the top county bear harvest. It was followed by Lycoming County, with 185. Other top counties for bear harvests in 2020 were: Tioga, 184; Clearfield, 157; Monroe, 152; Clinton, 149; Elk, 140; Luzerne, 125; and Carbon, 117.

Following are bear harvests taken in central Pennsylaniva. The first number is the 2020 harvest. The second number is the 2019 harvest.

Southcentral – 416 (731): Huntingdon, 90 (180); Bedford, 82 (156); Perry, 36 (68); Juniata, 34 (42); Fulton, 31 (80); Franklin, 31 (47); Mifflin, 30 (54); Blair, 29 (40); Snyder, 20 (25); Cumberland, 6 (27); and Adams, 7 (11).

Southeast – 170 (185): Schuylkill, 78 (79); Dauphin, 37 (67); Berks, 15 (17); Northampton, 23 (16); Lehigh, 7 (4); and Lebanon, 9 (2).

Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.