Despite one of the worst opening days in more than three decades of bear hunting, Pennsylvania charted yet another Top 10 bear harvest in 2017.
Hunters harvested 3,438 bears in the 2017 seasons, with the archery harvest of 493 bears and the extended season harvest of 1,083 bears setting records for those seasons.
Forty-eight bears weighing 500 pounds or more, including 14 weighing 600 pounds or more and two weighing 700 pounds or more, were part of the 2017 harvest.
Bears were taken in 57 counties and 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).
The totals represent a rebound from what was a rough start to the firearms bear season, when widespread wind and rain noticeably reduced hunter participation on opening day – traditionally the top day for bear hunters.
Only 694 hunters were successful on opening day, compared to the usual 1,500 hunters that typically harvest a bear, said Game Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent.
“In fact, the last time opening-day harvest dipped below 700 bears was in 1982, when bear season was only two days and the statewide bear population numbered less than 5,000 animals,” Ternent said.
Participation returned to normal by the second day, and hunters proceeded to take 1,852 bears in the general season, which is just over 70 percent of the average, Ternent said.
But new bear-hunting opportunities – including an earlier bear archery season that overlaps with a week of the archery deer season, and expanded extended bear seasons – paved the way for new records in those seasons, making up for some of the opening-day loss.
“The net result is that 2017 ranks as the ninth best all-time bear harvest, and hunters will have the same season opportunities and a strong bear population again in 2018,” Ternent said.
The all-time bear harvest high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested. Hunters harvested 4,164 in 2005. All other bear harvests have been under 4,000.
While the 2017 harvest was down compared to 2016’s harvest of 3,529, harvest totals increased within the Game Commission’s Northeast and Southeast Regions.
The largest bear harvested in 2017 weighed an estimated 707 pounds. It was taken in Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County, during the extended bear season in WMU 3D by Holly F. Scott, of Steelton, Pa. It was one of two 700-pound bears in the 2017 harvest.
Chad A. Wagner, of Titusville, took a bear estimated at 700 pounds in Oil Creek Township, Venango County, during the firearms bear season. Other large bears included a 691-pound bear taken during the firearms season in Cherry Grove Township, Warren County by James M. Langdon, of Wattsburg; a 661-pound bear taken during the extended season in Elkland Township, Sullivan County, by Timothy M. Smith, of New Albany; a 648-pound bear taken during the firearms season in Dreher Township, Wayne County, by Joseph D. Simon, of Newfoundland; a 648-pound bear taken during the extended season in Lehman Township, Pike County, by Jared R. Kipp, of Bethlehem; a 638-pound bear taken during the archery season in Tamaqua Township, Schuylkill County, by Jason R. Strohl, of Nesquehoning; a 632-pound bear taken during the extended season in Zerbe Township, Northumberland County, by Timothy I. Lenig Jr., of Shamokin; a 625-pound bear taken during the extended season in Harrison Township, Bedford County, by Mark C. Kunkle, of Sinking Spring; and a 616-pound bear taken during the extended season in Tremont Township, Schuylkill County, by Paul H. Neidlinger, of Pine Grove.
Lycoming County finished with 252 bears to take the top county bear harvest. It was followed by Tioga County with 214. Other top counties for bear harvests in 2017 were: Pike, 193; Potter, 161; Sullivan, 156; Wayne, 156; Clinton, 153; Bradford, 112; Warren, 109; and Luzerne, 108.
Final county harvests for the northeast region (with 2016 figures in parentheses) are:
Northeast – 1,112 (858): Pike, 193 (109); Sullivan, 156 (77); Wayne, 156 (104); Bradford, 112 (82); Luzerne, 108 (114); Monroe, 82 (94); Wyoming, 70 (49); Susquehanna, 66 (73); Lackawanna, 65 (51); Carbon, 57 (60); Columbia, 29 (39); Northumberland, 16 (5); and Montour, 2 (1).
While the overall harvest was down in 2017 due to tough hunting on opening day, it could equate to an excellent year for bear hunting in 2018, Ternent said. Prior to the start of the 2017 hunting seasons, the statewide bear population was estimated at 20,000.
The fact a lower-than-expected 2017 harvest still ranked among the best on record shows how special bear hunting in Pennsylvania has become, said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.
“There’s no place like Pennsylvania for hunting bears, and there’s never been a time when hunters’ chances have been better,” Burhans said.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky