HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania – The numbers show how good the black bear hunting opportunities are in Pennsylvania these days.

During the six and a half decades between 1915 and 1979, hunters in the state of Keystone typically harvested 398 bears per year. This drops to 424 if you exclude the four years – 1934, 1970, 1977, and 1978 – when the season was closed. Yet hunters did not harvest more than 1,000 bears in a single year until 1984, more than 2,000 bears until 1989, and more than 3,000 bears until 2000.

Compare that to the situation in more modern times.

Hunters have harvested more than 4,000 bears in a single year on three occasions since 2005, including two since 2011, with the all-time high of 4,653 in 2019. Nine of the 10 largest harvests on record in the past 13 years, with the 2020 harvest of 3,621 bears placing sixth.

Expect this train to keep going.

With plenty of bears still in the landscape and this fall’s season list again rich in opportunity, the potential is here again for another great season.

“We have lots and lots of black bears, some of the biggest in the country, spread across the Commonwealth and within reach of hunters around the world,” Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans said. “In addition, our different bear seasons give hunters the opportunity to pursue them in many ways throughout the fall.

“It’s an exciting time to be a bear hunter. It’s no wonder that more and more people are heading to the Bear Forest every fall.

Indeed, a record 220,471 people – including 211,627 residents of Pennsylvania – purchased bear licenses in 2020. This was up from 202,043 in 2019, 174,869 in 2018 and, going back further. , 147,728 in 2009.

This fall, bear hunters will be able to hunt in several distinct seasons.

There is a three week archery season statewide; a weeklong muzzleloader season that offers three days of rifle hunting for certain categories of hunters, including juniors and seniors; and a four-day statewide gun bear season that includes a Sunday.

Add to that the opportunities – some starting as early as September – to take a bear with a bow in a handful of wildlife management units.

This was all offered last year as well. But there is also something new for 2021.

As in the past, many WMUs will allow bear hunting during the first – and in some units, even the second – week of gun season statewide. Unlike last year, however, when bears only became legal game on the first Monday, hunters in 2021 will be able to harvest them on the deer season opening weekend, Saturday and Sunday.

“Pennsylvania has been a bear hunting destination for many, many years,” said Emily Carrollo, the Game Commission bear biologist. “I don’t expect that to change. Despite big harvests in the past, we still have a lot of bears, and a lot of big ones, there.

She recommended that bear hunters focus on finding food sources first, ranging from apples to hard pole crops like walnuts from oaks, hickory and beech to standing agricultural crops. Then, she added, look for a real bear sign.

Of course, even in the best places, not all hunters will fill out a bear tag. Success rates for hunters are generally around 2-3 percent.

But with so many bears in so many places, just being in the woods gives hunters a better chance at filling out a tag than at any time in the past century or more.

Looking back

Pennsylvania hunters have captured 3,608 black bears in the 2020 seasons. That was down from the record 4,653 in 2019, but still the second largest harvest in the past five years.

Archery hunters – with two weeks to hunt rather than one, as in the past – broke an archery record of 955 bears. The harvest was 1,041 during the 2-year special / muzzleloader season and 1,177 during the general firearms season. The harvest for the extended season was 435. The early season hunters took 13 animals.

Hunters have captured bears in 59 of 67 counties and 22 of 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) in Pennsylvania.

Potter County was the state leader in bear harvesting; the hunters have 188 there. Lycoming County was second best, producing 186 bears, followed by Tioga, with 185; Clearfield, with 158; Monroe, with 152; Clinton, with 150; Elk, with 140; Lucerne, with 125; Center, with 117; and Bradford, with 108. Pike County also produced 105, Wayne 100 and Carbon 97.

The largest bear harvested is the 719-pound male captured with a crossbow on November 7 in Ayr Township, Fulton County, by Abby Strayer of McConnellsburg. Hunters also took many other bears over 600 pounds.

Looking forward

Opportunity and variety mark the 2021 bear seasons.

They began with archery hunting on September 18 in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D. The season runs through November 26, including Sunday November 14 and Sunday November 21.

Archery hunting is permitted in WMU 5B from October 2 to November 19, including Sunday November 14.

Archery bear hunting is permitted in all other WMUs from October 16 to November 6.

Statewide muzzleloading bear season runs October 16-23, while statewide special gun season for junior and senior licensees , supervised hunters aged 16 and under, active duty military personnel and certain disabled permit holders runs from October 21 to 23. .

General bear season statewide is scheduled for Nov. 20-23, including Sunday, Nov. 21.

Extended bear hunting is permitted in UGF 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A from November 27 to December 4, including Sunday November 28.

Bear season in WMU 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D from November 27 to December 11, including Sunday November 28.

Hunters can only take one bear during the license year.

Bear check

Hunters who harvest a bear must have it checked by the Game Commission. The way to do this varies according to the season.

During the regular four-day gun season statewide and the extended bear season that overlaps part of the deer gun season, the Game Commission operates checkpoints at several locations. A list of these is available on pages 37 (regular season) and 38 (extended season) of the 2021-22 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

Hunters who catch a bear during any archery season or the October Muzzleloading and Special Firearms season should contact the Game Commission regional office for details. more details on how to get their bear controlled. Contact details for the regional offices and lists of the counties they serve can be found on page 3 of the digest.

Either way, hunters are encouraged to use a stick to open their bears’ mouths shortly after harvest and before the jaw stiffens. This allows agency staff to remove a tooth, which is used to determine the bear’s age.

Muzzleloading and archery overlap

A regulatory change adopted by the Council of Commissioners in 2020 allows duly licensed archery hunters to carry muzzleloaders when archery or muzzleloading seasons of deer or bears are on the rise. overlap again this year.

This allows deer or archery bear hunters to wear muzzle magazines during the muzzleloading bear season October 16-23, and to use muzzle magazines during this season. period to harvest bears. Duly licensed hunters can also use muzzle loaders to harvest antlerless deer during this period, as the antlerless muzzle-loader season is also October 16-23.

Carrying of firearms is generally prohibited during bow hunting. Aside from the exemption that applies during the muzzleloading deer and bear season overlaps, firearms license holders may own their authorized firearms while hunting. the arc.

Junior and senior license holders, those with a disability license, and residents of Pennsylvania on active duty in the military can hunt antlerless bears or deer with a rifle during the special firearms season of the United States. October 21 to 23. These people cannot hunt antler deer during special gun season when in possession of a rifle.

Orange license and requirements

Hunters who wish to pursue bears in Pennsylvania need a general hunting license or a supervised hunting license, as well as a bear license.

Hunting permits can be purchased online at https://huntfish.pa.gov or from issuing agents located in each county. A list of them is available at www.pgc.pa.gov under the “Hunt / Trap” tab. Licenses purchased online cannot be used until received in the mail, as bear licenses contain Harvest Ear Tags.

Bear hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the combined head, chest and back at all times during the general four-day gun season, or when participating in the season. muzzleloaders or special firearms. The orange should be visible at 360 degrees.

Hunters are also required to carry photo ID when hunting.

Another thing that hunters are recommended to do is go into the woods with a plan for how to take out a bear if they harvest one. Some bears get very large, but even the smallest can be difficult for one person to handle.