The timing was perfect for Austin Schuler’s first bear.
He spent the Saturday opener of the statewide bear season hunting with his stepfather, Kevin Ball, on South Mountain in Wyoming County. At 9 .m., Schuler saw a bear heading toward him, and when it drew closer he connected with a shot.
And just as Schuler got the bear out of the woods, it started to pour.
“It was windy all morning but the rain held off until after we got out,” Schuler said. “It was good timing.”
The bear — a female with an estimated live weight of 136 pounds — was Schuler’s first. For a lot of other hunters out on opening day, the rain dampened their hopes of bagging a bruin.
The heaviest bear brought to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northeast Region check station, which was held at the Back Mountain Regional EMA building in Lehman Township, had a field-dressed weight of 475 pounds and an estimated live weight of 560 pounds. The bear, which was a male, was taken in Ross Township, Luzerne County. Overall, 29 bears were brought to the check station, down from 56 last year and the lowest opening day total since 2007.
“The hunting pressure was relatively light,” said Wildlife Conservation Officer Jerry Kapral, whose district includes northern Luzerne County. “There were only a handful of vehicles on State Game Lands 57 this morning. We had wind, rain and no snow. Conditions just weren’t good.”
Hunting pressure was just as light in the southern part of Luzerne County, as WCO Phil White said he saw few hunters in Jenkins, Bear Creek and Buck townships, including a portion of SGL 91.
“It’s the weather,” White said. “The morning was clear until 10 a.m. and then it opened up.”
Still, some hunters managed to have a successful hunt before rain swept through the area. By 1 p.m., 16 bears were brought to the check station.
One of those lucky hunters was Chris Meeker of Hunlock Creek. He harvested a 92-pound female in Ross Township at 8:30 a.m. Meeker has hunted bears for 26 years and the one he harvested on Saturday was his first.
“I heard crashing behind me and there were two together. This one broke off from the other and I took the shot,” Meeker said. “It was hard to believe when I saw it. There was nothing happening and then all of a sudden there it was.
“That’s what I love about hunting. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Jonathon Berryman of Orange wasn’t going to let the threat of rain prevent him from being in the woods for the opening day. He spent Saturday hunting in the Noxen area and in the morning harvested the third bear of his hunting career, a 94-pound female.
Despite having already harvested two bears over the years, Berryman said his third was just as exciting.
“I had the shakes afterward. It’s just a thrill,” he said. “I didn’t expect to see a bear today, but you never know when it might happen.”
The statewide bear season concludes on Wednesday, Nov. 22 and opens up again in some Wildlife Management Units for part of the rifle deer season at the end of the month.
Coupled with the early archery bear season two weeks ago, which resulted in an unofficial harvest of 473, Kapral said the added bear hunting opportunities may be another reason why hunting pressure was light on Saturday.
“I think there are some hunters who are waiting to try for a bear during the extended season, which is when they may be off of work for vacation to hunt deer as well,” Kapral said. “A lot of guys take advantage of the extended season.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky