Pa. statewide bear season looms, and Game Commission is expecting another largest harvest

STAFF REPORT
The Pennsylvania black-bear harvest in 2020 numbered 3,621.

The 2021 statewide bear season in Pennsylvania is just more than a week away.

And the Pennsylvania Game Commission is expecting another large harvest — one that should include some of the nation’s largest black bears.

The statewide archery and muzzleloader bear seasons open up on Saturday, Oct. 16, although some selected Wildlife Management Units in the state started their archery seasons on Sept. 18.

The statewide archery season lasts through Nov. 6, while the statewidemuzzleloader season runs through Oct. 23. The statewide special firearms season for junior and senior license holders, mentored hunters ages 16 and under, active-duty military and certain disabled persons’ permit holders runs from Oct. 21 to 23.

The general statewide bear season is set for Nov. 20 through Nov. 23, including Sunday, Nov. 21.

Harvest numbers up markedly in recent years: The black-bear harvest numbers are up markedly from a generation ago.

Pennsylvania hunters didn’t harvest more than 1,000 bears in a single year until 1984, more than 2,000 bears until 1989 and more than 3,000 bears until 2000.

Since 2005, hunters harvested more than 4,000 bears in a single year three times, with two of those since 2011, including the all-time record of 4,653 in 2019. Nine of the 10 largest harvests ever occurred in the last 13 years, with the 2020 harvest of 3,621 bears ranking sixth.

The Game Commission expects that trend to continue.

“We’ve got many, many black bears, including some of the biggest in the country, spread across the Commonwealth and within reach of hunters everywhere,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans in a news release. “Plus, our various bear seasons give hunters the opportunity to pursue them in numerous ways throughout the fall.

“This is an exciting time to be a bear hunter. It’s no wonder more and more people are taking to the bear woods every autumn.”

Number of bear hunters is also up: A record 220,471 people – 211,627 of them Pennsylvania residents – bought bear licenses in 2020. That was up from 202,043 in 2019, 174,869 in 2018 and, going back further, 147,728 in 2009.

Despite the recent large harvests, the chances of an individual hunter bagging a bear in a given year are small — about 2% or 3%. Hunters can take only one bear during the license year.

Hunters took bears in 59 of 67 counties last year. Potter County led the state bear harvest at 188. Lycoming County was next at 186 bears, followed by Tioga at 185.

The largest bear harvested in 2020 was the 719-pound male taken with a crossbow on Nov. 7 in Ayr Township, Fulton County, by Abby Strayer, of McConnellsburg. Hunters also took numerous other bears exceeding 600 pounds.

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.

“Pennsylvania has been a bear hunting destination for many, many years,” said Emily Carrollo, the Game Commission’s bear biologist. “I don’t expect that to change. Despite large harvests in the past, we’ve still got plenty of bears, and lots of big ones, out there.”

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