DALLAS – Eric Newcomer wasn't going to bear hunt this year. The East Berlin resident had already tagged a bear five years ago in Sullivan County, so it wasn't a big deal if he didn't get another.
But Newcomer changed his mind this year when he purchased a .44 pistol.
So on Saturday's bear season opener, Newcomer went to the same mountain in Davidson Township, Sullivan County, where he harvested his first bruin five years ago.
He's glad he did.
I was in the woods two hours and one walked by me, he said. I got a shot at 50 yards and it ran into some brush.
Newcomer pursued the bear, got another shot and then it charged toward him, he said.
He ran right out, I backed up and shot again.
That ended the hunt for Newcomer, who bagged the bear at 7:45 a.m. and brought it to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's check station in Dallas at 11 a.m. The bear had a dressed weight of 178 pounds and an estimated live weight of 210 pounds.
It was all part of a very busy day for hunters and Game Commission personnel.
Mark Rutkowski, who is the PGC's law enforcement supervisor for the Northeast Region, said hunting pressure was high throughout the area on Saturday thanks to nice weather and, for the third year, a Saturday start to the season.
Newcomer said if the season began on Monday, like it had for years, he wouldn't have bothered taking off work to hunt.
Same thing for Lansdale resident Daniel Cummings, who harvested a bear at 7 a.m. in Columbia County. He said he couldn't have gotten the day off work if the season began on Monday.
His bear – a male with an estimated live weight of 177 pounds -- was the first one he harvested in five years of hunting.
I love it. I just built a house in Shickshinny and I'm up here more now, which means I can get out and do more hunting, he said.
At the Dallas check station, 45 bears were brought in -- the heaviest weighing 383 pounds (estimated live weight). The figure was lower than the 67 brought to Dallas on last season's opening day -- which also saw a record harvest of 4,350 statewide.
Still, with three more days of the season remaining plus additional opportunities with an extended season throughout much of the northeast, PGC officials are confident this year's harvest will be in line with the numbers of last season.
It seems like we have a higher bear population this year and it's hard to tell why the numbers were lower today, said Pete Sussenbach, land management supervisor for the PGC's northeast region.
In Luzerne County hunting pressure varied.
Wildlife Conservation Officer Gerald Kapral, whose district includes the northern half of Luzerne as well as Lackawanna County, said hunter turnout was heavy.
There were vehicles lining the road all the way down through Red Rock, Kapral said.
In the southern half of Luzerne County, WCO Dave Allen said hunter turnout was very light, along with the number of harvested bears he encountered.
Hunters had all of last week to hunt bears with a five-day archery season. As of last Wednesday, 37 bears taken in the archery season were brought to the Dallas check station. Several more were taken on Friday -- the last day of the archery season.
Hunlock Creek resident Justin Sirak used a compound bow to shoot a 184-pound bear in Union Township late Friday.
To shoot a bear in Pennsylvania, in the wild, is definitely one of the most exciting things I've ever done, Sirak said.
Bear season continues on Monday, Nov. 19 and closes at the end of the day on Wednesday, Nov. 21. An extended season that runs concurrent with part of the two-week rifle deer season will be open in some areas of the Northeast. For exact dates and locations, visit www.pgs.state.pa.us.