When the Pennsylvania Game Commission implemented as archery bear season in 2006, there were concerns that baiting incidents would rise as hunters attempted to coax bruins into bow range.
And there was also hope that the archery season — with its reduced safety zone of 50 yards — would allow hunters to pursue bears closer to residential areas where bruins generate the most nuisance complaints.
As the seventh archery bear season is set to begin on Monday, Nov. 18, have those concerns and hopes been realized?
When it comes to increased instances of baiting, the answer is somewhat. Last year, the PGC estimates that approximately 15,021 hunters participated in the archery bear season, resulting in a harvest of 262 bears. There were eight baiting violations during the season in 2012, but agency bear biologist Mark Ternent said he believes most of the bear harvests during the archery season were legitimate.
Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said on a statewide level said the rate of baiting citations during archery bear wasn’t higher than what occurs during the archery deer season.
On a regional level, in the northeast, PGC law enforcement supervisor Mark Rutkowski said when the early years of the archery bear season resulted in some baiting incidents, but wildlife conservation officers remain on the lookout for any foul play.
“We pay a lot of attention to archery-harvested bears. If we have any reasonable thought that a bear may have been taken over bait, we’ll have the hunter take us back to the kill site,” Rutkowski said. “Bears are easily habituated to food, and baiting would be an advantage to get a bear within shooting range.”
One occurrence that sends up a red flag to WCOs is when a number of bears are taken from the same area. There’s a chance that bait could be drawing an abnormally high number of bears into a small area, but Rutkowski said the attraction could be something entirely legal.
Several years ago during the rifle bear season, seven bears were harvested from a 30-acre parcel in Lackawanna County. Sensing that bait was being used, WCOs visited the location.
“We didn’t find bait, but we found a bumper crop of acorns,” Rutkowski said. “For some reason, the red oaks in this area produced a ton of acorns and they were everywhere. There was bear scat loaded with acorn hulls. The oaks in this area produced acorns like crazy, and the bears gravitated to that spot.”
The highest number of baiting violations during archery bear season was 17 in 2011. That same year was the last time a new class of WCOs hit the field, resulting in a manpower spike, Lau said. Other than that, the total never exceeded nine in a season.
Even with an estimated population of 16,000 to 18,000 bears, it still isn’t easy to set up in a spot where a black bear will happen to wander by within bow range. Despite the long odds, hunters have turned in decent harvests during the archery bear season.
From 2006-2009, the archery bear season was limited to two days in nine Wildlife Management Areas. With the exception of the 2009 harvest of 116 bears, the annual total never topped 79.
In 2010, the season was expanded to five days (Monday through Friday) statewide, and the harvest immediately jumped to 269 that year and peaked at 304 in 2011.
Although the agency doesn’t necessarily direct archery hunters to those areas that generate a lot of nuisance complaints, Ternent said nuisance bears — those that have been tagged and relocated from an area — have been taken during the archery season.
Last year, according to Ternent, there were six ear-tagged bears in the archery harvest. Four of the six had been captured previously in nuisance situations, including damaging birdfeeders, habituated to people in town and raiding a fish hatchery.
While hunter participation and the bear harvest is much higher during the rifle season — resulting in more nuisance bears being taken — the archery season is having some impact.
And with a bear population that continues to increase, Lau said a archery harvest of 300 each season is an attainable goal.
“In 2006, few people would’ve guessed the archery harvest could be that high,” Lau said, adding that all the bear seasons work in conjunction to address human-bear conflicts.
“Harvest goals are influenced largely by the number of human-bear conflicts. So long as the necessary bears are harvested, from a management standpoint it wouldn’t really matter which season the harvest took place,” he said. “The seasons have to work collectively.”