Joe Kosack / Pennsylvania Game Commission
Concern for bucks in the rut may keep the archery bear season where it’s at on the calendar.
The ultimate fate of the state’s archery bear season may be tied to white-tailed bucks.
For several years now, archers have been asking Pennsylvania Game Commission to move the archery bear season up to coincide with the last week of the statewide archery deer season. This past year, it started two days after deer closed.
Commissioner Dave Putnam said earlier this week he gets it.
“It would be a pretty exciting hunt,” he admitted.
Commissioners haven’t committed to going that direction yet, though. As the debate at their meeting showed, there are issues.
Mark Ternent, the commission’s bear biologist, said archers killed 206 bears across Pennsylvania last November during the six-day season.
Moving the season up to coincide with deer would assuredly increase participation, Ternent said. He predicted that might boost the archery harvest by as much as 900 to 1,000 bears, and push the total harvest – across all seasons – to 4,000 animals.
The bear population could likely handle that, he said. Estimated at 18,000 as recently as 2014, it’s pushing 20,000 now, he said.
“It’s just a matter of where you want to put that harvest,” Ternent said.
What’s less clear – and potentially infinitely more controversial – is what the change could do to the deer harvest.
The last week of the archery deer season is busy already.
According to Chris Rosenberry, the commission’s deer and elk section supervisor, 22 percent of all the deer killed in the six-week archery season, counting bucks and does, fall in that last week.
Bucks – not surprisingly, given that the last week coincides with the rut – fall at an even faster pace. Twenty-five percent of the archery buck kill is taken then, Rosenberry.
Those deer represent 10 percent of the total buck kill, across all seasons, for the year.
Adding the chance to take a trophy bear to the same week trophy bucks are their most vulnerable would surely draw a lot more hunters, said Putnam. That could be a problem, he said.
“They key thing that’s held us back in the past is the impact on the deer harvest. We would expect to see an increase in the harvest of deer,” he said.
Commissioners already hear from gun hunters upset with what they perceive as archers getting too much opportunity to take too many big bucks, he said.
“That’s one of our concerns as commissioners, too, how do you apportion the harvest,” Putnam added.
There’s another challenge, said commissioner Ron Weaner of Adams County.
Hunters who harvest a bear in the statewide firearms bear season have to take it to a check station. In the archery season, a conservation officer meets them in the field.
The commission couldn’t do that with 1,000 or more archery-killed bears, though, he said. It would have to go to manpower-intensive check stations then, as well.
“To expand that workload, I’m not sure it’s worth it,” Weaner said.