Thursday, November 28, 2013

Preliminary Three-Day Pennsylvania 2013 Bear Harvest Results

Hunters check 264 bears in sloppy conditions; 600-pounder added to top 10 list.

 Daniel Beavers of Covington Township, Lackawanna County bagged this 773 lb black bear. So far it’s the largest bear taken in Pennsylvania this season, and it was shot near Daleville in
Lackawanna County. 
“I wasn’t even going to go hunting.
 First drive of the morning he just came right out to me
and I shot him,” Beavers said.
Despite nasty weather throughout much of the state, Pennsylvania bear hunters added to statewide harvest totals on Tuesday, the third day of the statewide bear season, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced today.

An additional 264 bears were checked on Tuesday, based on preliminary numbers, bringing the harvest during the statewide season to 2,308.

That number could nudge further upward considering inclement weather left a handful of check stations unable to transmit data from bears checked Tuesday.
Archery and other early bear season harvest data still is being entered into the Game Commissions database, and is not available at this time.

Bears have been harvested in 51 counties during the statewide season so far.
The top 10 bears processed at check stations by Monday were either estimated or confirmed to have live weights of 557 pounds or more. The largest bear checked Tuesday weighed an estimated 601 pounds.

The largest bear overall – a male estimated at 772 pounds – was taken in Covington Township, Lackawanna County by Daniel J. Beavers, of Covington Township.

Other large bears include: a 632-pound male taken by Michael L. Truax, of Everett, Pa. in East Providence Township, Bedford County; a 627-pound male taken by Wayne A. Gehers, of Mohnton, Pa., in Tioga County’s Bloss Township; a 616-pounder taken by Bradley S. Rohrer of Lancaster, Pa., in Tioga County’s Union Township; a 601-pound male taken by Jeffrey C. Kratz, of Collegeville, Pa., in Shrewsbury Township, Sullivan County; a 597-pounder taken by Jenna L. Schoenagel of Greentown, Pa., in Pike County’s Greene Township; a 595-pounder taken by Maurice C. Younker of Mercersburg, Pa., in Fulton County’s Thompson Township; a 586-pounder taken by Jalynn N. Macnelley of Laceyville, Pa., in Bradford County’s Wilmot Township; a 560-pounder taken by Ernest W. Lucrezi of Beachlake, Pa., in Wayne County’s Berlin Township; and a 557-pounder taken by Ronald P. Fitzgerald of Forksville, Pa., in Sullivan County’s Elkland Township. 
This year’s three-day preliminary harvest compares with 2,442 in 2012, when hunters harvested 3,632 bears – the third-largest harvest in state history. The largest harvest – 4,350 bears – happened in 2011, when preliminary three-day totals numbered 3,023.

The preliminary three-day bear harvest by Wildlife Management Unit was as follows: WMU 1A, 15; WMU 1B, 79; WMU 2C, 218; WMU 2D, 143; WMU 2E, 76; WMU 2F, 269; WMU 2G, 490; WMU 2H, 72; WMU 3A, 155; WMU 3B, 161; WMU 3C, 59; WMU 3D, 193; WMU 4A, 71; WMU 4B, 55; WMU 4C, 54; WMU 4D, 176; and WMU 4E, 22.

The top bear harvest county in the state on the first two days of season was Tioga, with 163.

Two- day harvests by county and region are:
Northwest: Warren, 130; Jefferson, 63; Venango, 60; Clarion, 46; Forest, 44; Crawford, 31; Butler, 24; and Erie, 4.
Southwest: Somerset, 97; Fayette, 63; Indiana, 38; Armstrong, 35; Westmoreland, 30; and Cambria, 22.
Northcentral: Tioga, 163; Lycoming, 155; Potter, 118; Clearfield, 107; Clinton, 101; Cameron, 96; Elk, 87; Centre, 72; McKean, 64; and Union, 23.
Southcentral: Bedford, 50; Huntingdon, 46; Mifflin, 23; Blair, 22; Juniata, 22; Fulton, 17; Perry, 12; Snyder, 11; and Franklin, 8.
Northeast: Pike, 82; Wayne, 52; Sullivan, 47; Luzerne, 46; Carbon, 31; Monroe, 30; Wyoming, 28; Lackawanna, 26; Bradford, 21; Susquehanna, 13; and Columbia, 10.
Southeast: Schuylkill,18; Dauphin, 9; Lebanon, 5; and Northampton, 1.

In addition to participating in the closing day of the four-day season on Nov. 27, hunters with an unfilled bear license may participate in extended bear seasons in specific WMUs that run concurrent with all or portions of the first week of the firearms deer season. For those deer hunters who didn’t purchase a bear license, but are headed to an area where the extended bear season is being held, bear license sales will reopen from Nov. 28 through Dec. 1.

For details about those areas open to extended bear hunting and the dates, please see pages 36 and 37 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. Bear check stations opened during the extended bear seasons can be found on page 38 of the digest.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pennsylvania Outdoors Groups Fighting Stubborn Bills

By Bob Frye

This has gone on longer than anyone expected.

Months ago, lawmakers in the state House of Representatives and Senate introduced companion bills that would change how the state identifies threatened and endangered species and designates wild trout streams. House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047 would require the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and a legislative committee to review any designations proposed by the Pennsylvania Game and Fish and Boat Commissions.
Both, I was told in spring, would go away quickly. It hasn't happened.

Proponents of the bills say they would make decisions on species and trout streams “transparent” for the public's sake. They also would make it possible for industry to better know what it's up against when looking to operate.

Sen. Richard Alloway, chairman of the Senate game and fisheries committee, said in a recent op-ed piece that the bills “strike the right balance between species protection and economic considerations.”

Opponents say the bills are nothing more than an attempt to put conservation second to industrial interests.

“These disparate groups don't often agree, but they are unified in their opposition to these bills. Outdoorsmen and women from across the political spectrum are united in opposition to these bills,” reads an alert from the Hiking Association.

The Game and Fish and Boat Commissions oppose them, too. They say their processes of designating species and streams for protection already are public.

Fish and Boat commissioner Len Lichvar of Somerset County went further, opining in a recent letter that House Bill 1576 in particular represents “the worst single piece of legislation I have ever seen proposed.” The existing rules haven't cost a single job or deprived any business from pursuing its objectives, he said.

“However, if this legislation passes in its current form, our precious supply of clean water will dwindle, recreational activities and sportsmen opportunities will be reduced and the strong economic engines they support will be compromised,” Lichvar said.

Yet, House Bill 1576 recently passed out of committee and could be voted on by the full House at any time. Alloway said he plans to hold a hearing on the Senate version.

Sportsmen and conservationists are rallying the troops, though. If enough speak up, maybe these bills will finally die.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wait Is On For Late-Starting Pennsylvania Deer Season

Some big bucks await those heading afield for Dec. 2 opener.
Hunters are known for their great patience – and it’s a good thing, too.
          Those eager to start the clock on yet another deer-hunting season are waiting out the latest-starting season opener in years.
Because of the way the calendar falls in 2013, and with the opening day of Pennsylvania’s general deer season traditionally held on the Monday following Thanksgiving, the state’s “unofficial holiday” kicks off a full week later than it does in some years.
          But when that special day arrives, hunters statewide are likely to find the wait well worth it.
          The Pennsylvania Game Commission is tracking deer populations as stable or increasing in nearly all of the state’s 23 wildlife-management units. That means another good opportunity awaits the approximate 750,000 hunters expected to take to deer woods on the Dec. 2 opener, and for those hunting during the remainder of the season.
          “The opening day of the firearms deer season is something most hunters look forward to all year, and waiting out those few extra days when the season falls late like this can test one’s patience,” said Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “But by 7 a.m. that first Monday, the wait all across Pennsylvania will be over, and tens of thousands of lasting memories will be made in the hours, days and weeks that follow.”

          Statewide season
          The statewide general firearms season runs from Dec. 2 to Dec. 14. In many parts of the state, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season. In other areas, hunters may take only antlered deer the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from the first Saturday, Dec. 7 to the season’s close.
          Rules regarding the number of points a harvested buck must have on one antler also are different in different parts of the state, and young hunters statewide follow separate guidelines.
          For a complete breakdown of regulations, consult the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is issued to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses. The digest also is available online at the Game Commission’s website,
          One very important regulation that applies statewide is the requirement for each hunters to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on his or her head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement. And for safety’s sake, nonhunters who might be in the outdoors during the deer season and other hunting seasons might also want to consider wearing orange at this time.

          Deer forecast
          While deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in most of the state, many other factors influence deer hunting, said Chris Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s deer and elk section.
          The availability of food sources in an area plays a role in the deer harvest at a local level, he said.
          This year has produced a spotty acorn crop statewide, said David Gustafson, the Game Commission’s chief forester. A late spring frost affected white oaks and chestnut oaks. And a cold and wet spring in 2012 affected red oaks, which take two years to produce. Those conditions have combined to limit acorn availability in many areas.
          That’s not to say there aren’t acorns to be found, Gustafson said. In some cases, though, it can take some work to find them. Meanwhile, soft-mast and fruit crops have been good this year statewide, he said.
          And Gustafson said he’s seen areas this year where food has appeared more plentiful in the low-hanging parts of valleys.
          In any case, finding those food sources can be the key to hunting success.
          While factors like food and weather can influence the deer harvest, Rosenberry said it’s unlikely the late start will play much of a role.
          The timing of deer-hunting seasons in relation to the deer’s breeding season, commonly referred to as the rut, can impact the harvest, he said. But he said other factors typically are more important, as evidenced by deer harvests in different seasons with either early or late starts.
          Those hunters taking part in the season have a sizeable chance of taking home a trophy. A good crop of adult bucks is produced each year statewide, and last year’s harvest resulted in about 200 new entries into Pennsylvania’s Big Game Records Program, which recognizes exceptional whitetails, bears and elk.
          Meanwhile, hunting license sales also are slightly ahead of their 2012 pace.
          All of it adds to the potential for an outstanding deer season, Roe said.
          “Considering deer and hunter numbers both are good, the pieces are in place for a great season,” Roe said. “And for those hunters who harvest their ‘buck of a lifetime’ this year, it will be the best season ever.
          “That chance lies in store for the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who will take part in our deer seasons,” he said. “I hope each of them soon discovers that, indeed, good things come to those who wait.”

          Proper licensing
          Hunters during the statewide firearms season can harvest antlered deer if they possess a valid general hunting license, which costs $20.70 for adult residents and $101.70 for adult nonresidents.
          Each hunter between the ages of 12 and 17 must possess a junior license, which costs $6.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents.
          Hunters younger than 12 must possess a valid mentored youth hunting permit and be accompanied at all times by a properly licensed adult mentor, as well as follow other regulations.
          In order to harvest antlerless deer, hunter must possess either a valid antlerless deer license or a valid DMAP permit.
          Antlerless deer licenses can be used only within the wildlife management unit for which their issued. DMAP permits can be used only on the specific properties for which they’re issued.
          For many areas, antlerless licenses or DMAP permits might already be sold out. License availability can be checked online through the Game Commission’s website.
          Licenses can be purchased online, but as the season nears, hunters might find it better to purchase licenses in person. Deer licenses purchased online are mailed, meaning they might not arrive in time if purchased too close to the start of the season.

          Tagging and reporting
          A valid tag must be affixed to the ear of each deer harvested before that deer is moved. The tag must be filled out in ink by the hunter.
          Within 10 days of a harvest, a successful hunter is required to make a report to the Game Commission. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website, by clicking on the blue “Report a Harvest” button on the home page. Harvests can also be reported by mailing in the postage-paid cards inserted into the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, or successful hunters can call 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681) to report by phone. Those reporting by phone are asked to have their license number and other information about the harvest ready at the time they call.
          Mentored youth hunters are required to report deer harvests within five days.
          Reporting deer harvests helps to better estimate deer populations in wildlife management units and statewide, and hunters are asked to do their parts in this important process.   

          Chronic wasting disease
          Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in two areas of Pennsylvania, and special rules apply to hunters within each Disease Management Area (DMA).
          There are two DMAs. DMA 1 encompasses parts of York and Adams counties. DMA 2 includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon and Cambria counties.
          For the specific boundary line of each DMA, check the Game Commission’s website or turn to the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.
          Hunters may not remove from a DMA any deer parts deemed to have a high-risk of transmitting CWD. The head, backbone and spinal cord are among those high-risk parts, and successful hunters who live outside a DMA can remove and deposit high-risk parts in dumpsters that have been set up on state game lands within each DMA. They can then transport the meat and other low-risk parts outside the DMA.
          Hunters can also take their harvests to a processor or taxidermist within the DMA, and the processor or taxidermist can properly dispose of the high-risk parts. In some cases, processors and taxidermists just beyond the border of a DMA have been approved as drop-off sites and those facilities appear on the list of cooperating processors and taxidermists available on the Game Commission’s website.
          The Game Commission will be taking samples from about 1,000 deer in each DMA, but just because a hunter drops a deer off at a processor or taxidermist, or deposits high-risk parts in a dumpster on game lands, doesn’t mean the deer will be tested for CWD.
          To ensure a harvested deer will be tested, hunters can make arrangements with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Laboratory. There is a fee associated with testing. More information about this process can be found online at
          Transporting a deer head outside a DMA so the deer can be disease-tested at a lab is a permitted exception to the rule prohibiting the removal of high-risk parts from a DMA. Deer heads should be double-bagged in plastic garbage bags before they are removed from the DMA.
          Chronic wasting disease is transmitted from deer to deer by direct and indirect contact. It is always fatal to deer that become infected, but it is not known to be transmitted to humans.
          Out of an abundance of caution, people are advised not to consume meat from deer that test positive for CWD.

          For more information CWD and rules applying within DMAs, visit the Game Commission’s website.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Deer-Forest Study Proves You Don’t Need Thumbs To Text

Text messages sent to and from GPS collars allow researchers to monitor deer movements.

          Proof that texting is here to stay – deer in parts of Pennsylvania have their own texting plans.
          As part of the Deer-Forest Study, a cooperative research project being conducted by the Game Commission and a host of other partners, several deer in Pennsylvania are wearing GPS radio collars that can be controlled via text messages. 
Get Image

          Short text messages are sent from the collar to researchers, and vice versa, to instantly record the location of collared deer and allow researchers to learn more about deer movements and behavior, particularly in relation to hunting.
          Over the years, the Game Commission has placed collars on thousands of Pennsylvania deer. Through such monitoring, researchers have learned things such as 70 percent of yearling bucks will disperse miles from where they were born, and have better understood harvest rates of antlered and antlerless deer during the hunting seasons.
          But the new texting collars provide innovative and exciting opportunities, said Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s deer and elk section. The collars monitor deer behavior across large areas at all times of the day, Rosenberry said.
          Collecting this much location data wouldn’t be possible with regular radio collars, he said.
          “With these new GPS collars, we can track a deer’s movements every 20 minutes during the two weeks of the firearms season,” Rosenberry said.  “There just wouldn’t be enough time, money or equipment to collect this much information using technicians and regular radio collars. And the GPS collars also will provide better deer location data to learn about fine-scale deer movements throughout the year and especially during the hunting seasons.”
          Because the study looks at deer in relation to hunting, it can’t be completed without cooperation from hunters.
          The study areas within Bald Eagle State Forest in Centre, Union and Snyder counties; Rothrock State Forest in Centre, Mifflin and Huntingdon counties; and Susquehannock State Forest in Potter County all are marked with signs at parking lots and along roads. And those hunting the study areas are asked to register and report their experiences to the Game Commission.
          Hunters can register by visiting the white-tailed deer page at the Game Commission’s website, then clicking on the “Deer-Forest Study” link in the “Research and Surveys” category.
          After deer season concludes, hunters will be mailed a survey to record their hunting success and experiences. Individual surveys will remain confidential. Only summary information will be provided to the public.
          Rosenberry said input from hunters using the study areas is critical to the success of the study.
          “Without hunters registering and telling us about their hunting experiences, we will not be able to completely assess deer-hunter interactions,” he said.
          Exploring how deer respond to hunting pressure, and how their behavior affects hunter experiences and opinions, is one objective of the Deer-Forest Study. The study also looks at the impact deer have on forest regeneration, a phenomenon that has been studied for decades but now can be measured at a higher level of detail.
          The study is being conducted in partnership by the Game Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania State University and U.S. Geological Survey’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. It sets out to answer a simple question – Can we do better when it comes to monitoring forest health, one of many factors taken into consideration when making deer-management decisions?
          Forests are important to deer, providing vital food and cover. And as primary consumers of forests plants, deer impact forest health.
          But their browsing in the forest understory often makes deer an easy target when it comes to assigning blame for lagging forest regeneration – even when other factors could be responsible. 
          The new study will help ensure that, in cases where deer aren’t responsible for lagging regeneration, they won’t be blamed for it.
          “Recommendations to adjust deer populations never are taken lightly,” Rosenberry said. “And this study is designed to strengthen the data we use in making our annual recommendations to either increase, decrease or hold steady deer populations in a given area.” 
          More information about the Deer-Forest Study is available online at the Game Commission’s website,

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dogs Add Something Special For Hunters Chasing Squirrels

By Bob Frye

George Bossart is above all a dog man. From the immaculate kennels in the back yard of his Acme home to the Laurel Highlands Coon Hunters hat on his head to the crates in the bed of his pickup to the rug on its passenger seat — it marks Suzie's spot when you're not around — he's all about dogs.

A couple of his canines are unusual, though, at least for this part of the world.
Suzie and Ginny, both treeing curs, are squirrel-hunting dogs.

“They use all three senses — sound, sight and smell,” Bossart said. “Any movement, they'll catch it, better than another dog. They can actually tree a squirrel by the sound of their claws running over bark. And if a squirrel's been on the ground, they'll smell it.”

At work, the dogs cruise the woods silently, sometimes moving so quickly it's hard to imagine them having a purpose.

But when they tree a squirrel, as they did four times in about three hours one day last week in the woods around Kecksburg, they “open up” — barking, howling, leaping and frenetically clambering as far up the tree as gravity and their nails allow — to alert Bossart that it's time to move in.

When he shoots the gray or fox squirrel they've cornered, they move in briefly as if to confirm everything their senses had told them, then take off after the next one.

“If it isn't fun for a dog, treeing, then you might as well forget it. But if they take to it, boy, they seem to live to do it,” Bossart said.

Hunting dogs with squirrels is something that took root long ago and lives on most strongly in the South.

“When you get down to Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, that's really the heart of squirrel hunting with dogs,” said Jim LaPratt of Gagetown, Mich., owner of the website Squirrel Dog Central.

“I think it started as a subsistence thing, when people were always worried about putting food on the table. It was a way a dog could sort of earn his keep, too.”

That's how Donald Moats, president of the World Tree Dog Association in Lisbon, Ohio, got started in the sport six-plus decades ago.

“Well, we did it for the meat. I was born in the mountains of West Virginia, and back then, it was pretty tough. If you didn't grow it or kill it, you didn't eat it,” Moats said.

“But I had a little dog that learned to hunt squirrels, and it went with me everywhere I went.”
That's not nearly so common here. Though squirrels are perhaps the most abundant game animal in the state — hunters kill in the neighborhood of 700,000 annually, and biologists say that's a fraction of the harvest the population could stand — fewer people are hunting them than ever, and fewer still are doing it with dogs.

They're missing out, LaPratt said.

“It's just a lot of fun, especially for kids,” he said. “Taking a kid squirrel hunting with a dog is the perfect thing because being absolutely quiet isn't so essential. You can walk through the woods and talk and still shoot some game.”

Most squirrel dogs are one of two varieties: curs or fiests. The best of them — like those crowned at the Tree Dog Association's world championship, held on the grounds of the Western PA Coon and Fox Hunters Association grounds in Parker on Saturday — are “five-digit dogs” in that they can be worth upwards of $10,000, LaPratt said.

Training them isn't necessarily hard, said Bossart, who has three champion squirrel dogs to his credit.

“The main thing, I think, is just to get them out where there are lots of squirrels. I think they best learn on their own,” he said.

Most curs and fiests will “tree anything that will go up a tree,” Moats added.

“The more you hunt them for whatever it is you're after, the more they seem to take to it,” he added.

How successful dogs can make a squirrel hunter can vary. There are times when they can provide almost nonstop action, LaPratt believes.

“A guy with a dog, he's going to go five or 10 to one, I would guess, on squirrels, compared to a guy without a dog. In a good woods, by the time you shoot one squirrel, skin it, and pack it up, your dogs are on another. You can pack up your limit in a hurry,” he said.

Even when things aren't that hot, a good dog — which can “hear a squirrel cutting a hickory nut 200 yards away” — makes for an efficient day in the woods, Moats said.

“They don't waste any of your steps. If you hear one barking, they've got a squirrel treed,” he said.

Bossart won't go so far as to say that hunting squirrels with dogs is dramatically more productive than hunting them without one. A hunter who finds a nice stand of hickories or oaks that has produced a bumper crop of nuts, and who can sit still and quiet, can certainly get his share, he said.

Dogs don't make squirrel hunting foolproof either, he said. On days when the squirrels just won't leave their dens or nests, not even a champion dog can track them down, he said.
But if he's hunting squirrels, you can bet there will be a dog involved.

“Most of the squirrel hunters I know who use dogs, they just like to see the dogs do well more than anything. They like to see the dogs work,” he said. “That's the really fun part.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

10 Point Rescue Caught On Camera

Submitted by club member Jim Martin

Veterinarian and his son rescue 10 point buck

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bull Creek Recognized For Youth Programs!

PA Wildlife Conservation Officer Dan Puhala attended Bull Creek Rod and Gun Club's November membership meeting to award the club a special framed work of art in recognition and thanks for the many youth programs put on by the club annually.

These include two Hunter/Trapper Education Classes each year, along with the only sponsored Youth Pheasant Hunt in Allegheny County and our annual Youth Rifle Tournament as well as other events throughout the year.

"Bull Creek does more to support youth outdoor shooting sports than any other club in southwest PA", Puhala said.  "These events help teach kids in our area safe and ethical practices in handling firearms and hunting safety and are greatly appreciated by the PA Game Commission"

Pictured from left to right: PA Wildlife Conservation Officer Dan Puhala,
Bull Creek members Don Lang, Ray "Corky" Zbikowski, Chuck Gray and
Steve Allias

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Will Impressive Bear Harvest Trend Continue?

Expert says Pennsylvania’s 2013 seasons hold promise, but hunters might need to up their efforts.

          Recent years have been some of the best on record for Pennsylvania bear hunting, and the annual statewide bear seasons again are about to kick off.
          Leading the way is the statewide archery bear season, which opens Monday, Nov. 18. And after that five-day season comes to a close on Nov. 22, properly licensed hunters who still are in pursuit of a bear can participate in the four-day general season that opens Saturday, Nov. 23, then runs from Monday, Nov. 25 to Wednesday, Nov. 27.
          There’s been plenty of reason to get excited about bear hunting in recent years.
          The 2012 harvest of 3,632 bears statewide represents the third-largest in state history. And last year’s take follows an all-time record harvest of 4,350 bears set in 2011.
          A growing bear population, which now numbers 16,000 to 18,000, and expanded hunting opportunities in recent years have contributed to the large harvests. And the combination has helped to create a sweet spot in time for in-state bear hunting, said Mark Ternent, bear biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
          “In Pennsylvania’s history, there’s never been a better time to hunt bears,” Ternent said. “Nowadays it’s getting increasingly harder to identify our so-called best bear hunting counties, because opportunities are becoming increasingly better throughout so much of the state.”
          In 2012, for example, hunters harvested bears in 56 of the state’s 67 counties, and Pennsylvania routinely has been seeing harvests in 50 counties or more. Bear-hunting success across the state is something Ternent said simply wasn’t possible 30 years ago, when bear populations were more concentrated in core areas of northcentral and northeastern Pennsylvania.
          And this expanded range has many Pennsylvanians reclassifying what they consider “bear country” and where they might choose to hunt.
          “It’s not a case where there are only a few areas where a hunter might get close to a bear,” Ternent said. “That opportunity exists throughout much of the state, and in areas some might not expect.”
          To suppress conflicts that might arise from bear populations expanding into more inhabited parts of the state, an extended bear season exists in a handful of Wildlife Management Units. In WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, bear season is open concurrent to the archery, early muzzleloader and firearms deer seasons. And hunters in other WMUs also have a limited opportunity to harvest a bear during portions of the upcoming firearms deer season. Those areas include WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D, and 4E.
          A complete list of opening and closing days can be found on Page 36 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to hunters when they purchase their licenses, or at the Game Commission’s website,
          All bear harvests must be reported to the Game Commission.
          Hunters who harvest a bear during the four-day general season must take it to one of the Game Commission’s check stations within 24 hours. Taking bears to a check station also might be required in WMUs where bear hunting is permitted during all or a portion of the firearms deer season.
          A complete list of requirements, check stations and their dates and hours of operation can be found on pages 37 and 38 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.
          Hunters who harvest a bear during the bear archery season – or in any other period where check stations are closed – must within 24 hours contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which the bear was harvested for checking instructions.
          Ternent said bear hunters up their chances of success by hunting near available food sources, and with a spotty acorn crop this year, preseason scouting might make the difference. Locating acorns might result in finding a bear nearby, he said.
          “Hunters might need to do more homework than usual this year,” Ternent said. “Bears will shift around to find food, and those hunters who scout for areas with better foods, whether it’s acorns, beechnuts, black cherry, or agricultural fields, will have an advantage. That doesn’t mean the hunter who heads to his usual spot won’t find bear sign; he just might see more or less of it depending on the local food conditions.”
          Still, Ternent said there’s no reason to believe 2013 doesn’t hold the potential for another record harvest.
          Among other factors, the bear harvest is driven by the number of bears and the number of bear hunters, and both appear to be up this year, he said. The weather during the season will play a crucial role in determining the harvest.
          For those taking part in the bear seasons, the opportunity exists to harvest a truly large bear. Last year’s harvest included 45 bears weighing 500 pounds or more, five that surpassed the 600-pound mark, and the heaviest bear overall – harvested in Monroe County – weighed 709 pounds.
          Ternent confirmed also that bears weighing in excess of 800 pounds continue to roam Pennsylvania’s wilds.
          “There’s a lot of rich tradition tied to bear hunting in Pennsylvania, and the upcoming seasons hold a lot of promise,” Ternent said. “While predicting the harvest is tricky business, it’s always a safe bet to say that a number of hunters will experience the thrill of a lifetime in the coming weeks.”

Bear seasons
          To participate in bear hunting in Pennsylvania, a hunter needs a general hunting license, as well as a bear license. Bear licenses can be purchased until the day before the statewide general bear season – for example, through Nov. 22 – but not during the season. After the general bear season, bear licenses can again be purchased until the day before the extended bear season – for example, from Nov. 28 through Dec. 1.
          Bear hunters also must observe fluorescent orange requirements. In the bear archery season, hunters are required at all times while moving to wear a hat containing a minimum of 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material if hunting in an area also open to fall turkey hunting. The hat may be removed once the archer has settled in a stationary position.
          During the firearms seasons for bear, hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined. The orange must be visible from 360 degrees and must be worn at all times while hunting.
          Hunting licenses can be purchased online from The Outdoor Shop at the Game Commission’s website, but buyers should be advised that because bear licenses contain harvest ear tags, they are sent by mail rather than printed at home.
          Buyers waiting to the last minute to purchase a bear license might be better off making a trip to an authorized licensing agent and picking up a license there.
          Licensing agents can be searched by county at the Game Commission’s website,, under the “Hunt/Trap” tab.

All bear harvests must be reported to the Game Commission and checked.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Number of Pennsylvania Conservation Officers Plummeting

By Bob Frye

Amil Zuzik, a deputy conservation officer with the
Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stands for a portrait
at Twin Lakes Park in Westmoreland County on
 Thursday, October 31, 2013
It ain't about the money.

Professional athletes say that all the time, even as they leave one team they profess to love for another offering a richer contract.

But it's true when it comes to Amil Zuzik.

He's worked at the same “job” for 38 years. He hasn't had a raise in a decade, yet he supplies and maintains most of his own equipment over that time, occasionally deals with criminals ranging from the guy who gets caught up in the moment to the serial offender. And he uses vacation time to get trained.

That's what it takes to be a deputy waterways conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

“I started with the idea of wanting to be out there to protect the fish and wildlife. There are just not a lot of people out there to do it,” Zuzik said.

“I enjoy it. I enjoy getting out and talking to the guys you meet, the boating aspect of the job, the way it keeps me busy.”

There aren't many like him these days, though.

Deputies — whether with the Fish and Boat Commission or the Pennsylvania Game Commission — have long been counted on to help full-time officers enforce fish and game laws, track down poachers, collect dead deer from along the roads, investigate pollution cases, and speak to school children, civic groups and others about Pennsylvania's natural resources.
But they're disappearing.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission had about 1,900 deputy wildlife conservation officers on patrol statewide at its peak in the mid-1980s. This year it's got 364. Counting those expected to retire by year's end, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has about 100 deputies now, compared to a high of about 400 in the 1980s.

With the compliment of full-time officers largely unchanged since then — the Game Commission has 136 for the entire state when fully staffed, the Fish and Boat Commission 85 — the “thin green line” protecting Pennsylvania's natural resources is thinner than ever.

“When I was an officer in the field, I had two districts, and each of them took in about 350 square miles, which is about average. And I was it,” said Mike Reeder, now chief of the administration division in the Game Commission's bureau of wildlife protection.

“Especially during hunting seasons, you're getting calls from every which way. If you didn't have any deputies, a lot of those calls would go unanswered, a lot of wildlife crimes would go unsolved.”

The deputy force is an aging one, too.

“Most of the deputies we have in this region, I would say, average 50 years old. And it may be higher than that. That's just being conservative,” said Tom Qualters, chief of law enforcement for the Fish and Boat Commission's 10-county southwest region office, which is down from 100 deputies to 15, none in Washington or Armstrong counties.

“We're just not getting the interest from young people we once did.”

There are probably a lot of reasons for that.

Deputies are provided with uniforms and badges, but have to provide their own firearm, holster, belt and other “leather gear,” an investment of $700 or more. There's lots of training involved — in law, personal defense, public relations, fish and wildlife management, and more — that can take up to a week in some cases. They have to pass physical fitness and shooting tests annually. On patrol they often drive their own vehicles, burning their own gas.

For all of that, Fish and Boat deputies earn $65 for an eight-hour day, with the number of days they can work capped by an annual budget. Game deputies get $85 a day.

“We do expect a lot of out of them. And they don't get a lot in return,” said Corey Brichter, head of the Fish and Boat Commission's bureau of law enforcement.

“It probably comes out as a wash, what they spend on their own versus what we can pay them,” Qualters said.

That almost begs the question of why anyone would do it.

For Bill Hesse of the South Hills, the reasons are many. He's a deputy wildlife conservation officer for the Game Commission who's been on the job for just one year or so. He balances the job with working full time and being a husband and father to three children ages 9 to 13.

“In my opinion, for someone who has the same kind of interests that I and the other guys on the job do, hunting, fishing, conservation and the outdoors, it's just a great experience,” Hesse said.
“For me, when I started, I wasn't sure what to expect. But it's been so much more of a rich experience in many ways than I could have expected. I've made some good friends out of it.”
Whether the commissions' deputy programs have bottomed out is unknown. The number with the Game Commission, for example, has finally held steady for three years or so, but recruiting people is not getting easier.

“I don't know where the program is going,” Qualters said. “I'm not sure what the future holds, and I don't think anyone else does, either.”