Fawne Hopfer was sitting with her father, Robert, when she saw a bear approaching their stand.
She slowly reached for her gun and whispered to her father that a bear was nearby.
“I asked him if I could shoot,” Fawne said.
Robert advised his daughter to wait until the bear got closer, and all of a sudden the bruin detected their scent, turned and started to run back in the opposite direction.
That’s when Fawne, 16, shot and bagged the first bear of her hunting career — a 136-pound bruin in Noxen Township.
Fawne’s father shot a bear soon after, making for quite a day for the Hopfer’s on Saturday’s opener.
Reports from around the region indicated there were plenty of bears seen and hunters in some spots were having success as decent weather greeted hunters.
Wildlife conservation officer Dave Allen, who patrols part of Luzerne County, said hunting pressure was a bit below average but bear sightings were way up.
“It’s extremely high and the hunters are certainly seeing bears in the woods, it’s just a matter of getting them,” Allen said, adding he checked one group of hunters on State Game Lands 119 in Dennision Township that bagged five bears in the morning.
WCO Phil White, whose district also covers Luzerne County, said he had yet to check a successful hunter by noon but there are certainly plenty of bears in the area.
“There are going to be plenty of opportunities for bear hunters this week in my district,” White said. “There’s plenty of bears, but the hunting pressure today was light.”
Bear season opened Saturday and continues to Wednesday of next week. At the bear check station at the Pennsylvania Game Commission region office in Dallas, things were fairly slow for the first half of the day.
Only eight bears had been brought in by 1 p.m., but later in the afternoon vehicles with successful hunters began to arrive more frequently. By 7 p.m. that figure increased to 32, with the heaviest bear weighing in at 315 pounds (field-dressed).
Among them were Brock Croll and his father, Jeff, who hunted in North Union Township in Schuylkill County. At 9:30 a.m. Brock, 12, shot his first bear — a 210-pound female, after it was pushed out.
“He wasn’t even going to go, but last night he decided to go with me,” Jeff said.
Brock was glad he did.
“This was my first day of bear hunting ever and I’ll be replaying this in my mind for a long time,” Brock said. “It feels great.”
PGC biologist Kevin Wenner said several youth hunters brought in bears on Saturday as the weather proved beneficial.
“It was a great first day weather-wise with dry conditions and some sun,” Wenner said. “It kept the hunters out and the bears active.”
Gene Everett of Newport Township was hunting in his hometown when he spotted a bear feeding in the woods at 7 a.m. Everett said he was hunting from the stand of friend John Evans when he downed the bruin — his fourth.
For Everett, harvesting a bear in his hometown was an added bonus.
“They’re in my trash everyday,” he said. “I don’t think this one was, though.”
Hunting around food sources was the key on Saturday. Wenner said that was a little more difficult this year because the dry summer forced farmers to harvest their corn a bit earlier. The absence of standing cornfields made it tough for hunters in some area to locate bears.
Still, those that focused on areas with good supplies of mast did generate success.
That’s where the Hopfers found their bears.
“I noticed a spot while I was archery hunting with a lot of beech nuts and the bears had just torn it up,” Robert Hopfer said. “We knew there were bears in the area.”
His daughter’s bear had tags in each ear, and PGC personnel at the check stationed reviewed their records and found the bear had been trapped in the Beach Lake area in 2006. It was 5 years old at that time, making the bear 12 when Fawne harvested it.
“That was interesting to learn,” she said. “It makes this that much more memorable.”