Paul S. Mahon of Montoursville poses with the 561-pound male bear he harvested in Plunketts Creek Township, Lycoming County, on Nov. 17, during the statewide archery bear season.
Last year was another banner one for bear hunters across Pennsylvania.
Mark Ternent, the Game Commission’s black bear biologist, said hunters killed 3,748 bears in 2015. That ranks as the third highest harvest in state history.
Eight of the largest harvests have been recorded in the past 10 years, led by the all-time high of 4,350 in 2011. The 2005 kill of 4,164 ranks second.
Of the bears taken last year, 68 topped 500 pounds. Eighteen weighed more than 600 pounds, and two more than 700.
Hunters killed 12 bears in the early extended season in the wildlife management units around the state’s biggest cities, 209 in the statewide archery season, 2,724 in the statewide regular season and 803 in the extended seasons.
The state saw a record number of bear hunters, too: 175,314.
No other state east of the Mississippi can compare in terms of bear hunters or bears harvested, Ternent said.
Some hunters and commissioners wondered, though, if opening the regular bear season on a Saturday rather than a Monday and adding extended seasons had changed hunter behavior.
The answer is yes and no.
Having a Saturday opener has increased participation, Ternent said. License sales went up 9 percent in 2010, the first year that became the norm.
It’s also become the day that accounts for the most bears killed, replacing Monday. About two-thirds of all the bears killed fall that day.
People aren’t just hunting on Saturday and then giving up, as some feared would happen, though. In fact, Ternent said, the opposite may be true. He noted that a large percentage of the hunters who chased bears all three days of the season under the old rules now hunt them all four days under the new ones.
As for extended seasons, there’s no doubt that adding them to a wildlife management unit draws hunters, Ternent said. Participants grows by anywhere from 20 to 120 percent, he said.
And the bear kill goes up in those places, he added. But it doesn’t go up so much as to go outside “acceptable levels.”
In the meantime, here’s a look at the number of bears taken last year, broken down by county.
Lycoming County led the way with 312, followed by Clinton, 265, Tioga 196, Pike 180, and Centre, 162.
Closer to home, Warren gave up 126, Somerset, 102, Fayette, 87, Forest, 77, Venango, 76, Clarion, 69, Jefferson, 59, Armstrong, 41, Cambria, 31, Westmoreland, 27, Butler, 22, Indiana, 22, Crawford, 13, Mercer, 8, Allegheny, 6, Erie, 5, and Beaver, 1.
And lest anyone worry, if there’s one thing the big harvests of recent years hasn’t done, it’s hurt bear numbers. As recently as three years ago, the statewide population was estimated at 18,000, Ternent said. Now, he added, it’s thought to be an all-time high of 20,000 bears.