Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rain Hampers Bear, Deer Seasons; Fishing Interest Increases

By Bob FryeTrib Total Media

It's been a busy fall, if not the most productive one.

Bear season, while still good, failed to live up to its largest possibilities, while a good portion of the deer season locally appears to have been — in large part thanks to weather — a washout. Only on the fishing front has there been anything out of the ordinary good, though it's early.

Bear season

Going into the statewide bear season, the Pennsylvania Game Commission laid out the possibility of this being a record-breaking year.

Bear numbers were at an all-time high, as was the number of bear hunters. Food supplies, critical to keeping bears out of their dens and active, were good in most places.
The one variable that could screw things up, cautioned biologist Mark Ternent, was the weather.

He called that one.

Facing conditions ranging from icy to foggy to rainy to unusually warm, hunters killed 2,444 bears as of the end of the four-day statewide season. That was down slightly from 2013's pace, when hunters took 2,473 by the same time.

That's not terrible by any means — the 2014 harvest still will rank in the top 10, if not the top five —– but it's not close to a record pace, either.

The state record harvest occurred in 2011, when hunters took 4,350 bears. They bagged 3,154 by the end of the regular statewide season.

Still to be added to this year's harvest figures are the bears taken during the extended portion of the hunt. It overlapped with a portion of deer season in places. This year, for the first time, properly licensed hunters could take a bear from Wednesday through Saturday of the first week of deer season in wildlife management unit 2C, for example.

A good many tried, said Tom Fazi, a supervisor in the commission's southwest region office. But they took only 35 to 40 bears or so, likely because of bad weather, he said.

“We did have groups of guys out looking for them. They were pushing for them,” Fazi said. “They just weren't having much luck.”

A final bear harvest figure will be available after the first of the year.

Deer season

It will take even longer for the commission to release an estimate of how many deer were killed during the 2014-15 seasons. That usually occurs around March.

But the regular firearms season appears to have been slow locally, again at least partly due to poor weather on key days, such as the first Saturday of the season, according to reports.
A spokesman at Espy's Meat Markets in East Huntingdon said the number of deer brought in on that first Saturday — typically a busy day as doe season opens everywhere — was down.

Fazi said he patrolled in Cambria and Indiana counties that day and checked just one hunter with a deer all day.

Pat Snickles, another supervisor in the southwest region office, said he experienced similar things. He recounted a conversation with one hunter, who said he would rather wait for better weather than hunt in a downpour. That seems to be the attitude a lot of hunters took, Snickles said.

Things picked up a bit this past week, especially given some areas had snow, he added.
“But I think that when it's all said and done, this is going to have been just an average season,” Snickles said.

Even that would top what's been seen in some other places.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources this past week announced the buck harvest during the two-week firearms deer season, which concluded Dec. 6, was down 34 percent compared to last year. Officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife likewise said the deer harvest in the seven-day firearms season was down 13 percent.
Fishing licenses

It's early, but fishing license sales are running ahead of last year's pace.

License for the 2015 year went on sale Dec. 1. There hasn't been a rush to get them, but that's not unusual. In a typical year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will sell about two percent of the 800,000-plus licenses in December.

But as of Friday, sales were up about 1.6 percent this year over last, commission spokesman Rick Levis said.

Agency leaders are hoping that's because anglers are taking advantage of a price break.
The commission reduced the price of a general license for 2015 by $1; that break is good all year. For this month only, though, anglers can buy three- and five-year licenses and get $1 off each, a savings of $3 to $5.

“Every time we raise license fees, we lose anglers. We're hoping that by cutting fees we'll bring a few back,” executive director John Arway said.

Whether the “catch the value” campaign will bring back anglers is an unknown. Arway admits it's an experiment.

But the potential to bring new or lapsed anglers back to the sport make it worth the risk, he added.

At least one other state is now trying something similar.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently ordered a drop in the cost of the state's lifetime hunting and fishing licenses. The price break is only good until Dec. 31, and it's only open to state residents 21 and younger.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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