Some records could fall when the statewide bear season gets underway on Nov. 23.
A bear population that continues to grow — estimated between 16,000 to 18,000 — coupled with abundant food sources could result in a harvest that could overtake, or at least come close, to the 2011 record of 4,350 bears.
Add in the expanded opportunities through the archery bear season and extended seasons in some Wildlife Management Units and the opportunities, along with the bears, certainly exist.
“In Pennsylvania’s history, there’s never been a better time to hunt bears,” Pennsylvania Game Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent said. “Nowadays it’s getting increasingly harder to identify our so-called best bear hunting counties, because opportunities are becoming increasingly better throughout so much of the state.”
Last year’s harvest of 3,632 was the third-largest in state history and bears were taken in 56 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
In the northeast region, PGC biologist Kevin Wenner said the only element that needs to fall into place for a successful harvest is the weather.
“Days with a tracking snow and good visibility in the woods are best,” he said. “Rain would be the worst because it deters hunting activity.”
Not only are bear numbers healthy, but so are the bruins themselves. There are plenty of big bears throughout the state and Ternent said there are bruins weighing more than 800 pounds roaming the woods.
Last year, hunters harvested 45 bears weighing 500 pounds or more, five that surpassed the 600-pound mark, and the heaviest bear overall – harvested in Monroe County – weighed 709 pounds. When it comes to legally harvested tagged bears in the state, the heaviest was a 864-pound male taken in Pike County in 2003.
Wenner said he has tagged several bears in the northeast over the last few years that weighed between 550 and 650 pounds.
And that was in the summer.
“As mast is available in the fall, it’s likely many of those are reaching the 700-plus range,” Wenner said. “Some of these bears were tagged years ago and we haven’t seen them since.”
Not only are Pennsylvania’s bears numerous and big, some are also pretty old. Since 2009 the PGC has tagged a little more than 3,200 bears. The fate for 70 percent is unknown, meaning it’s likely that many are still roaming the woods. Ternent said the agency has age data for about 1,500 of those bears and, assuming they are alive today, the oldest would be two females — one each in Lycoming and Westmoreland counties, that would be 22 years old.
Wenner said there was a bear in Monroe County that was killed this year that was almost 30 years old.
“We have some vast areas with large swamps, and those bears get in there and really become adapted to avoiding us,” Wenner said.
While the upcoming bear season has the potential to produce a record harvest with some very big bears, there is also the chance to produce a true record for the books. For a bear to make the Boone and Crockett record book, criteria is based on the length and width of the skull.
For Wenner, the potential for a record book bear coming from the region is one of the most exciting aspects of the season.
“As a biologist, I’m always impressed to see that 400-pounder coming out of a remote area with a huge skull that could be a record book bear,” he said. “With the food sources and habitat we have here, these big males can reach record book sizes.”