Last year hunters harvested 225 bears during the archery season, and one Pennsylvania Game Commission official believes that number could be significantly higher this year.
The archery bear season opens on Oct. 30 and concludes Nov. 4 — two weeks earlier than previous years. The Game Commission opted to move the season up in order to give those archery hunters who were already in the woods hunting deer during the rut (and possess a valid bear license) a chance to bag a bear as well.
With more hunters in the woods, agency biologist Kevin Wenner said, the potential for a higher harvest exists.
“They’re estimating anywhere from 600 to 900 bears could be harvested,” he said. “It’s a considerable increase to what we’ve been harvesting in the archery bear season.”
Agency spokesman Travis Lau said the season was changed in response to requests from hunters. The PGC board has discussed the idea for several years, he said.
The bear season was moved to the second-to-last week of the archery deer season, and not the last week, to avoid the peak of the rut. If archery bear season was combined with the last week of the fall archery deer season, Lau said, there was a concern the increased participation could impact the number of bucks harvested as well.
Still, combining bear and deer in the second-to-last week offers a unique opportunity as it also couples with the start of the fall turkey season.
“When previously has a hunter had a chance to triple trophy in the same week? There’s a lot of interest there,” Lau said.
Wenner said he has heard from several hunters who are taking the week off work in order to hunt for bears, bucks and turkeys at the same time.
While a higher archery bear harvest is expected with the season change, Lau cautioned the overall bear kill might not spike because hunting activity will be spread out over several seasons.
In regards to the northeast, Wenner hopes the harvest is high enough to reduce the bear population, which he said is extremely healthy.
“We’d like to see an increased harvest to reduce the bear population in some Wildlife Management Units,” Wenner said. “The 20 percent of the population we’ve been harvesting isn’t stabilizing things and it’s continuing to grow.”
When it comes to hunting bears with a bow, patterning feeding behavior and targeting food sources are the keys. Wenner advised hunting around standing cornfields or where sources of mast are abundant. The beech crop is the highest it’s been in years throughout Bradford, Sullivan and Wyoming counties, Wenner said, and wild apples and other soft mast are plentiful as well.
The availability of mast and other natural food sources has cut down on nuisance bear complaints a bit, according to Wenner.
One wild card could be the weather. With an earlier season, Wenner said weather conditions could be warmer, causing a decrease in bear movement.
Still, there will be plenty of opportunity to harvest a bear.
“In the northeast, the bear population is doing extremely well. Bears are basically found everywhere,” Wenner said.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky