HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Whenever a near-record black bear harvest occurs, as in 2003, hunters typically expect the next year's harvest to drop off. But Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers and biologists don't believe the state will head in that direction when the statewide three-day bear season opens Monday, Nov. 22, so long as inclement weather doesn't keep hunters out of the woods. "The last few years have been phenomenal for black bear hunting," said Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross. "Our bear population has been growing for some time and field officers have been tasked to perform more and more bear nuisance work. Residents are seeing bears everywhere. And each year, bears move into more areas where they haven't been seen in a long, long time. "The first time hunters took 3,000-plus bears in the state, they followed the season with another 3,000-plus harvest. Of course, there's no way of guaranteeing they'll do the same in 2004, but there surely is no shortage of bears in the Commonwealth." Pennsylvania recorded its first 3,000-plus harvest in 2000, when hunters took 3,075 bears. In 2001, the harvest dropped slightly to 3,063. Then in 2002, it slipped to 2,686. Last year, the harvest totaled 3,000 bears. Pennsylvania's four largest black bear harvests have occurred over the last four years, which seems odd for a somewhat reclusive big woods species at a time when development - particularly in the Poconos, a historic black bear stronghold - continually claims more of Penn's Woods. But not according to Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. "Our record black bear harvests have been occurring because the bear population has been increasing, not because hunters are starting to take progressively more bears out of the population each year," Ternent said. "Hunters have consistently taken about 20 percent of the state's bear population annually since 1980. The last four years - although record harvest years - were no exception. Population growth has been most noticeable in places where bears have been expanding their range, like our southern and western counties. "Right now, the Game Commission believes the state's bear population is nearly 15,000 bears, which is close to where it was last year. These estimates are based on an intensive monitoring program that involves the capture and ear-tagging of about 600 bears annually. Observations of many Wildlife Conservation Officers have likewise followed the same trend - that bears are as abundant as ever, despite record harvests in the past four years." Game Commission field personnel collectively believe bear numbers are stable or rising in most areas where bears have been established for some time. They rate bear hunting prospects as good to excellent and also note that large bears are being seen with regularity. In the heart of Pennsylvania's traditional bear range, Clearfield County WCO Chris Ivicic reported he is looking for all the hunter help he can get. "Bears are continuing to be sighted everywhere," he reported. "Complaints are up, especially on very large bears. I have been unable to trap these bears and I'm sure they will not be in a hurry to hibernate with the large amounts of acorns that are on the ground. Please come and take your best shot. I'd give you specific locations, but that would mean listing just about everywhere in my district." McKean County WCO Tom Sabolcik said, "Black bear numbers are exceptional this year. I have captured and relocated more than 20 bears and my busy time has yet to come. Sightings are commonplace here. Of the 20 that I have captured, at least five weighed in well over 400 pounds. Last season, several 600-pound bears were taken in the Port Allegany area and to tell you the truth, their big brothers are still out there." In Lackawanna County, WCO Mark Rutkowski said, "Bears are becoming the most noticeable wildlife species in northeastern Pennsylvania." Even in northern Dauphin County, near the state's capital, WCO Mike Doherty reported, "Bears are everywhere. The expanded hunting opportunities in Wildlife Management Unit 4C will give hunters the opportunity to help out residents being troubled by nuisance bears." On the heels of two very successful years of expanded bear hunting in the Poconos, the Game Commission for the first time is expanding bear hunting in the first week of the rifle deer season - Nov. 29-Dec. 4 - to include WMU 4C, which comprises portions of Berks, Carbon, Columbia, Dauphin, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties. WMU 3D, which includes all of Monroe and Pike counties and parts of Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lehigh, Northampton and Wayne counties - also will be included in the extended season, as well as portions of WMUs 3C, 3B and 4E, and a small area in Lycoming County north of Williamsport. (For details, see pages 36-38 of the 2004-2005 Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest, which is presented to each license buyer.) In the past two years, hunters have taken 323 bears - including 149 in 2003 - in Pennsylvania's extended bear season. WMU 4C was added to this year's season because two years of hunting bears concurrently with deer in the Poconos didn't lead to unacceptably large harvests or negatively impact the conservation of local bear populations. "Another reason for adding WMU 4C to the extended season is that although good bear habitat can be found throughout the unit, bears do not have to wander very far south before they are in marginal bear habitat and areas with high-conflict potential," Ternent said. "We generally place the southeast limit for bears in Pennsylvania at the Blue Mountain." Ternent is expecting a bear harvest of 2,500 to 3,000, with the chance for slightly more if the weather is ideal for hunting. "It will be interesting to see by how much - if any - the changes to the expanded bear season this year influence the statewide harvest," Ternent said. "The expanded hunting areas have well-established bear populations and typically attract substantial hunting pressure." In 2003, the top bear harvests by WMUs were WMU 2G, 718; WMU 3D, 413; WMU 4D, 317; WMU 3B, 298; and WMU 2C, 218. In a county breakdown of the 2003 bear harvest, Lycoming led all others with a harvest of 202. It was followed closely by Clinton, 193; Tioga, 156; Pike, 147; and Wayne 130. Bears were taken in 52 counties in 2003 (49 in 2002). In 2003, hunters took three bears - one eventually was determined to have been taken illegally - with estimated live weights exceeding 800 pounds. The largest was an 864-pound male taken in Dingman Township, Pike County, by Douglas Kristiansen of Milford. "Bears weighing up to 800 pounds certainly exist in Pennsylvania, but they are quite uncommon," Ternent said. "On the other hand, few states produce big black bears as consistently as Pennsylvania. On average, 30 hunters a year take a 500-pound or larger bear in the Commonwealth. "Big bears can be found just about anywhere in the state. They have two requirements that must be met to become exceptionally large: great food supplies and a chance to get older. If I were hunting for a big black bear, I'd look for good food conditions and low hunting pressure. Some southern counties meet this description, given their large agricultural areas, interspaced by mountains with productive oak forests and low hunting pressure." Last year, a record 123,911 hunters purchased Pennsylvania bear licenses. In 2002, 122,046 hunters bought bear licenses. It is believed expanded bear hunting opportunities are enticing more hunters to purchase a bear license, as well as increased bear sightings in secondary bear range throughout the state. BEAR HUNTERS WANTED Every year, Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers try to direct some of the state's 100,000-plus black bear hunters to their county or district. Some are looking for help in reducing the number of troublesome bears in their area. Others are directing hunters to great hunting opportunities they might not normally hear about. This year is no exception. Getting right to the point was Tioga County Wildlife Conservation Officer Rich Shire. "Too darn many is the only way to describe the bear population here," he said. "Bear complaints are at an all-time high." McKean County WCO Rose Luciane also got right to the point: "In my district, we have seen and have more reports of more bears than deer being seen." In Elk County, WCO Doty McDowell reported, "Elk County again seems to be one of Pennsylvania's best kept bear hunting secrets. With all of our remote country, most bears never know it's bear season!" Potter County WCO Bill Ragosta said, "I have received more bear complaints in my district this summer than in any of the previous 12 years that I've lived here. There are bears practically everywhere and hunting prospects should be super." WCO Chip Burnst noted the lack of hunter pressure was a significant problem in his district. "On the first day of bear season, I wish I had as many bear hunters as I do black bears in the woods of northern Butler County." In Perry County, WCO Jim Brown reported, "The bears are here. All we need are the hunters." WCO Barry Seth added, "We need more bear hunters in Armstrong County and bear hunters should really consider this area as prime bear hunting territory." LYCOMING COUNTY OFFICERS EXPECT TO REMAIN ON TOP OF BEAR COUNT Lycoming County has held down the top spot among Pennsylvania's 50 or so bear-producing counties for the past two years. Its 2003 harvest totaled 202 bears. In 2002 the county's harvest was 224. Of course, Lycoming County's chief rival is Clinton County, which it narrowly beat in 2003 by nine bears. Clinton held the top spot from 1999 to 2002. For the past 27 years, either Clinton County or Lycoming County has led the state in bear harvest, except in 1997, when Potter County surprised this relatively historic two-county competition with a harvest of 175 bears. It beat Lycoming by three bears that year. It's recognized that Clinton and Lycoming counties have been the heart of Pennsylvania's historic bear range, have large numbers of hunting camps and thousands of acres of public lands. Bear hunting has always been a big deal in these counties. Richard Macklem, who recently left his Lycoming County WCO district to become the Game Commission Northcentral Region Office Information and Education Supervisor, made it pretty clear he expects Lycoming to remain on top. "Lycoming County has lead the state for the past two years during the traditional three-day season prior to Thanksgiving, and I can see this happening again in 2004," Macklem said. "To make the Clinton County WCOs a little happier, the Lycoming County WCOs have worked together to help them increase their chances of getting back on top by transferring some of our trapped nuisance bears to their area, even though those bears properly have returned to Lycoming County already. Good luck Clinton County, you're going need it." WCO Jonathan Wyant seems fairly confident about Lycoming's chances, too. "I believe that Lycoming County will top the state again this year in the bear harvest," he said. "We will not need the extended season to beat Clinton County, the regular season will do." In Clinton County, WCO John Wasserman indicated he was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. "Prospects are excellent for a high number of bears to be harvested here during the upcoming season," he said. "Unlike last year, acorns are plentiful in my district. Bears should remain active through the hunting season, and if the weather cooperates, we may end up well ahead of last year's harvest." Fellow Clinton County WCO Ken Packard said, "Reproduction and problems still are too high in this area; we need the population drastically reduced and ask that bear hunters consider coming here to hunt. Bears more than 300 pounds are becoming common, and with the amount of state land here, there ought to be more than enough room for all hunters. Sightings of bears on SGL 89 are at an all-time high." Land Management Officer Tom Smith, who works in both counties, simply reported both will provide excellent bear hunting in the upcoming season. BEAR HUNTING TIPS One of the biggest mistakes bear hunters make is failing to locate areas with good fall food supplies - acorns, beechnuts, corn - before the hunting season and overlooking areas of dense cover where bears like to hide. "Signs to look for while scouting include droppings; bedding areas, which are scratched out depressions, usually at the base of a tree or log; and active trails with tracks," said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. "In beech stands, look for fresh claw marks on tree trunks indicating that bears are feeding in the area, and in oak stands look for fresh droppings that are almost completely composed of acorns bits. Either of these signs suggest bears are feeding nearby and, if food conditions are right, they will likely still be there come hunting season. "A good time to scout is late October, so you can assess local mast conditions. When mast conditions are spotty, finding a good area dramatically increases your odds of also finding a bear." Other bear hunting tips include: -- Look for bears in the thickest cover you can find, such as: swamps and bogs; mountain laurel/rhododendron thickets; north-facing slopes; and some river bottoms. Bigger bears are notorious for holding in thick cover even when hunters pass nearby. -- Organized drives are effective. Hunters working together often increase their odds of taking bears, especially those bears holding out in thick cover. Develop plans to drive likely bear hideouts and follow them to the letter. A minor slip-up by a driver, flanker or stander is all any bear needs to elude even the best-laid plans. As with any drive, it is important to know where each member of the drive is and that everyone keep safety first and foremost in mind. Regulations limit the size of organized drives to 25 people or less. -- Hunting on-stand early and late in the day gives hunters a great chance to catch bears traveling to and from natural feeding and bedding areas. Hunt areas that provide cover to traveling bears and ensure there are either feeding or bedding areas near where you plan to hunt. -- Use the wind to your advantage. If a bear gets a whiff of you, you're busted as a hunter. Bears have an outstanding sense of smell. They often let their noses guide the way as they travel. Always place yourself downwind of the bear when hunting on-stand or driving. Bears are cagey enough without giving them more advantages. -- Stay focused and assume nothing. Black bears blend in well in forest settings at dawn and as dusk approaches. Blink or spend too much time looking one way and you can miss a bear. Even though bears are quite heavy, they often are surprisingly quiet moving through the forest. You may see a bear before you hear it coming. Staying alert and remaining vigilant are critical. BEAR CHECK STATIONS Hunters who harvest a bear in Pennsylvania must take it to one of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's check stations within 24 hours. All check stations will be in operation from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day of the Nov. 22-24 season. After 9 p.m. on Nov. 24, hunters with bears to be checked should contact any of the Game Commission's region offices for assistance. To improve customer service, two new check stations have been added this year. The first is in Schuylkill County at the Tuscarora State Park maintenance building in Barnesville, about two miles west of Tamaqua on Route 54. The second is in Lackawanna County at the Lackawanna State Park maintenance building (behind park office) on Route 524. From Interstate-81, take Exit 199 and go three miles west on 524. Bears taken during the extended season (Nov. 29-Dec. 4), also must be taken to a check station. The stations that are open and hours of operation differ from the regular season, so be sure to consult page 37 of the 2004-2005 Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, which is provided to every hunting license buyer. The Digest also may be accessed electronically by visiting the agency's website (http://www.pgc.state.pa.us). BEAR HUNTING FIELD REPORTS Northwest Region: For the third straight year, Warren County led the region with a bear harvest of 71; followed by Jefferson, 54; Forest, 43; Clarion, 40; and Venango, 40. Warren County WCO Don Daugherty said, "Bear hunting will be excellent, especially in Columbus, Freehold and Sugar Grove townships." Also in Warren, WCO Dave Donachy said, "Bear sightings in woodlots close to towns have been high throughout the summer. Food sources will be the key to finding them in-season." Jefferson County WCO Roger Hartless reported, "Black bear populations have never been better here. There are literally bears everywhere. Hunting bears in organized drive has a much higher level of success than hunting solo, but preseason scouting and locating areas where bears are feeding will tip the odds of taking a bear in favor of even the solitary hunter." In Forest and Warren counties, LMGS George Miller said, "I've seen more bears and found more bear sign this spring and summer than I have in previous years. Hunters should work areas with good mast crops, swamps and cornfields." WCO Rod Bimber said, "We have lots of bears in Clarion County. I have reports of several large ones." Venango County WCO Clint Deniker said, "The bear population continues to rise in Venango County; the population seems to be healthy and growing. Hunters should consider walking into remote areas and using drives." Erie County WCO Darin Clark said, "Most bears I know of are staying around swamps in real thick cover." Crawford County WCO John McKellop III said, "The highest concentrations would be on mostly private lands north of Titusville, the Thompson Run valley area, and the Hydetown/Mystic Park area. There are a large number of 400-pound or larger bears in eastern Crawford County." Southwest Region: Somerset County continues to lead all other counties, as it has for years. In 2003, Somerset County had a bear kill of 75, followed by Indiana, 69; Fayette, 61; Armstrong, 57; and Westmoreland, 29. Somerset County WCO Travis Anderson said, "People have been seeing bears just about everywhere, but the best bet is in the mountains, where the hills are steep, the cover is thick and the food is plentiful." Also in Somerset, WCO Brian Witherite said, "Hunters should concentrate their efforts on the mountain areas of SGLs 11 and 271 and the Forbes State Forest." In addition WCO Scott Tomlinson reported, "The best hunting is on private ground and in the central and northern part of Somerset County, where bear numbers have grown because of a lack of hunting pressure." Indiana County WCO Jack Lucas said, "Bears have been sighted countywide. Populations are excellent, especially on SGLs 153, 79 and 276." Fayette County WCO Stephen Leiendecker said, "I expect another banner year, despite our two consecutive record harvest years. The best areas include the Quebec Run Wild Area, SGLs 51 and 138." WCO Charlie May, also in Fayette, said, "Bear sightings have been many and constant all summer." Armstrong County WCO Barry Seth said, "Bears continue to increase and spread into new areas. We need more bear hunters." Cambria County WCO Larry Olsavsky said, "Thickets, slashings, creek bottoms, cornfields next to woodlots, reclaimed strip mines and timbered areas are always the hot spots. Look for areas with autumn olive and crabapples, bears have hit these items hard in the past." Westmoreland County WCO Rod Ansell said, "If you stay on the ridge and toward the bottom of the mountain from Baggley to the Three Mile Hill, you'll find bears." Northcentral Region: Lycoming County remained the state's top bear harvest county with a kill of 202. It was followed by Clinton, 193; Tioga, 156; McKean, 129; and Potter, 124. Tioga County WCO Rodney Mee reported, "A 600-pound class bear eluded hunters again in the Hills Creek State Park area." Potter County WCO Mark Fair said, "Black bear hunting has never been better. Nuisance complaints continue to increase even though soft mast foods were excellent this summer. The hotspot for complaints this summer was Roulette Township. Concentrate on hunting in dense clear-cuts scattered throughout the county. Bear hunting should be excellent in any township you select this year." Also in Potter, WCO Denise Mitcheltree said, "The bear population is exceptional on the state forest land between Hungry Hollow Road and the village of Oleona, and in the East Fork valley between Nelson Run Ridge and McConnell Ridge. Bear activity was extremely high in the Cherry Springs area and hunters should have successful hunts in areas such as the West Branch of Pine Creek just north of Cherry Springs, east to Straight Ridge, west to Rock Run Road and south to the Alabama Trail." Union County WCO Dirk Remensnyder said, "It would be easier to tell you where not to find bears this year. Hunters should stay in Union County." Clearfield County WCO Dave Carlini said, "All we need to do is get more hunters here and this county will lead the state in bear kills. The farming areas in Covington, Lawrence, Girard and Goshen townships are always good bets for finding bears." Also in Clearfield, WCO Dave Stewart said, "Hunting pressure has been minimal at best the last few years. SGLs 77, 87, 93 and the area around Parker Dam State Park all hold good populations of bears." Elk County WCO Dick Bodenhorn said, "Everyone is talking about the numbers of bears they are seeing and how many bears they have raiding their garbage cans and birdfeeders. There are bears everywhere. We have a better than usual mast crop that should keep the bears from early denning, and if we have enough bear hunters, we could set a bear harvest record this year." Southcentral Region: Huntingdon County continued to lead the region in bear harvest in 2003 with a kill of 94. It was followed by Bedford, 40; Blair, 38; Mifflin, 28; and Snyder, 18. Huntingdon County WCO John Roller reported, "Even with a high harvest in the county last year, people are seeing bears everywhere." In the Blair and Huntingdon counties region, WCO Richard Joyce said, "Some nice-sized bears have been sighted. As always, SGL 166 is holding a good population of black bears." Bedford County WCO Jim Trombetto said, "Food conditions in the forests have remained good all summer, and this has kept bears out of sight. Bear populations are good and so are hunting prospects. Hunters should look for bears in the most rugged, mountainous areas they can find." Blair County WCO Al Zellner said, "Large bears have been seen district-wide. Good bets for bear hunters are SGLs 73, 147 and 118." Blair County WCO Steve Hanczar said, "Bear hunting in the Sinking Valley area, ridges overlooking Duncanville, Altoona, Bellwood, Tipton, Tyrone and Bald Eagle provide excellent habitat and should provide an exciting bear hunt." LMGS Dave Koppenhaver, who works in Bedford and Fulton counties, said, "Bear numbers are on the increase, probably because of a rather low local harvest last year. If the weather is good, the hunting should be great." Snyder County WCO Harold Malehorn said, "The bear population in the county is holding steady. Hit the ridges for the best hunting." Mifflin County WCO Jeff Mock said, "Bears are all over the county from the state forest in Armagh and Brown townships to private land in Derry and Decatur townships. All we need for a good kill is hunting pressure." Perry County WCO Steve Hower said, "Our bear population is increasing annually. Discovery of bears here that were tagged by officers in other counties indicates that some bears are moving into Perry County." Northeast Region: Pike County led the region in 2003 with a bear harvest of 147, followed by Wayne, 130; Monroe, 112; Luzerne, 103; and Sullivan, 86. Pike County WCO Bob Johnson said, "Sightings of many large boars have been reported. Don't be surprised to see a couple over 700 and maybe close to 800 pounds in the harvest again this year. As a bear gets ready to hibernate, its territory will get smaller and smaller, centering on the largest concentrations of food. Look for these areas near good cover and you'll greatly increase your chances." Wayne County WCO Jim McCarthy said, "The large swamps of SGL 312 in southern Wayne County are a 'bear' to get through, but driving the swamps to standers is the way to go. If we have a warm fall, be sure to bring your hip boots." Wayne County WCO Frank Dooley said, "With so many complaints and sightings, Wayne County bear hunting is going to be better than excellent this year." Monroe County WCO Pete Sussenbach said, "Hunters should focus on the eastern sections of Tobyhanna and Coolbaugh townships. Vast swamps and abundant food supplies make this area home to large quantities of bears - some approaching 600 pounds." Monroe County WCO Gerald Kapral said, "SGLs 127 and 38 will continue to be the hot spots. Bear hunters will need to get drives through the thick swamp areas on these State Game Lands to get bears moving." Bradford County WCO Matt Grebeck said, "The bear population is ever-increasing and chances of harvesting one of these trophies get better each year. Remember scouting is key to being successful hunting any game, but it shouldn't take long to locate a good area to hunt. Talk with the farmers and local residents, I'm sure they can direct you where to go." Columbia County WCO George Wilcox said, "Hunters should pursue bears in the same areas they hunt deer." Carbon County WCO Fred Merluzzi said, "Bear complaints remain high." Lackawanna County WCO Dan Figured said, "Bear hunting should be good in Fell, Archbald, Jefferson and Carbondale townships. Hunters should concentrate on blueberry swamps and stands of scrub oak." Luzerne County WCO Tom Swiech added, "Bears are being sighted on a daily basis all over. Hunt thick blueberry swamps for your best chances of success." Southeast Region: In 2003, the region's bear harvest totaled 73, up one from the 2002 harvest. Bear hunting in this region is primarily pursued in the northern mountainous counties. Few bears are taken south of the Blue Mountain. As always, Schuylkill County led all counties with a harvest of 39, followed by Dauphin, 14; Lehigh 7; Northampton, 6; and Lebanon, 4. Schuylkill County WCO John Denchak reported, "Last year's harvest was disappointing. I did not have the harvest that I need to keep black bear nuisance complaints at a level that can be dealt with. Bears in the 600-pound range are not uncommon and there's a very good chance to see a record-book bear. With the extended season in WMU 4C, this will provide us with the hunter numbers needed to take a reasonable harvest and the most exciting first week of the firearms deer season in a long time." Schuylkill County WCO Will Dingman said, "Black bear populations appear to continue to grow. Hunting opportunities can be found in the Weiser State Forest off Taylorsville road near Lavelle and SGL 84 north of Pitman. Historically, Jeff's Swamp outside Lincoln has been a popular area and will be again this year. Preseason scouting of WMU 4C will pay off." LMGS Matt Belding, who works in Berks and Schuylkill counties, said, "Get into the thick swampy areas and participate in drives to get the bears moving." In Lehigh and Northampton counties, LMGS Dave Mitchell said, "Hunters should try SGLs 168 and 217." Berks County WCO Bill Vroman said, "Bears are plentiful along the Blue Mountain. SGL 106 and the Weiser State Forest are good bets." LMGS Scott Bills, who works in Dauphin and Lebanon counties, said, "More black bears every year." Dauphin County WCO Jason DeCoskey said, "Black bear numbers are up this year."
SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission