Sunday, November 15, 2015

Young, Wandering Males To Predominate Pennsylvania Bear Harvest

By Bob Frye

Young male bears are the most likely to turn up in check stations this week and next.
Pennsylvania's statewide archery bear season runs Monday to Friday. The firearms bear season opens Saturday and continues from Nov. 23-25.
If history holds, the kill will be large.
The statewide bear population is estimated at a record 18,000. Bear hunter numbers are higher than ever before, too, with about 175,000 expected to take to the woods.
That combination has led to nine of Pennsylvania's 10 largest black bear harvests occurring in the past decade, with 3,366 taken last year. That was the seventh-highest tally ever.
Most of those animals were young.
For example, in the 10-county northwest region of Pennsylvania in 2014, 53 percent of the bears aged were 1 year, 10 months old. In the 10-county southwest, it was 49 percent.
That's not surprising, said Mark Ternent, bear biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“Like with any other species, the younger age classes are the largest age classes, hence the largest proportion of the kill. Younger bears also are more vulnerable because of inexperience,” Ternent said.
Older, and consequently heavier bears are taken annually.
Butler County gave up 28 bears last year. Of the 19 aged, 15 were younger than age 3.
But one was 7 years, 10 months old and weighed 598 pounds. It was taken in Moraine State Park.
“Most of the roadkills I see come from Route 422 where it goes through the park, or turn up along Route 8 or Interstate 79 near the park,” said Randy Pilarcik, the commission's wildlife conservation officer in that area. “There's a healthy population of them there. But that was a really nice one.”
Bears can get even older.
Animals up to age 15 show up in the harvest just about every year, Ternent said, with some older ones sprinkled in. Last year, hunters took six bears that were 16 years, 10 months old, three that were 17 years, 10 months, one 20 years, 10 months and one 23 years, 10 months.
However, that's not the upper limit.
Two years ago, conservation officers had to put down a bear in Carbon County that a homeowner spotted in her yard, unable to walk. It was a record eight weeks shy of age 37, Ternent said.
“It was 6 years old when we put a collar on it in 1982, which means it was born in January 1976. Gerald Ford was president when that bear was born and it died in 2013,” he said.
But young bears are the norm.
What's more surprising, Ternent said, is how many of those bears are males.
Pennsylvania's bear population is roughly 60 percent female. Yet the annual harvest is “within 100 bears every year” of being 50-50 males to females, he added.
In the northwest region last fall, 50 percent of bears taken by hunters and subsequently aged were male. In the southwest, it was 52 percent.
“Males just lead riskier lives,” Ternent said.
There are several reasons, he pointed out. They're less likely than females — who spend all of their lives from age 3 on either pregnant or caring for cubs — to den early.
They have larger home ranges, too. That means they cross more roads and encounter more people.
And they're the explorers.
Female bear cubs rarely go far from where they were born, Ternent said. Males spread out farther and faster.
“Those peripheral areas, you expect young males to show up there first. They just find themselves there sooner,” Ternent said.
That's a hint of what might be to come locally, perhaps this fall.
No hunter has killed a bear in Greene or Washington counties since the commission began keeping records in the 1940s.
But Stephen Leiendecker, a land management group supervisor with the commission, thinks that might soon change.
There are bears living in Greene County year-round, he said. No one's seriously hunted them before this year, but there's been “scuttlebutt” of that changing, he said.
“I'm wondering if this isn't going to be the first year of harvesting a bear in Greene,” Leiendecker said.
There's no guarantee it will be a young male, Ternent said.
“Peripheral areas tend to get overlooked as having a huntable population for a few years after bears become established. Under this scenario, we might expect some older-age bears to be present because of the relatively light hunting pressure at first,” he said.
But he wouldn't be surprised if it is.
Beaver County produced its first bear this century earlier this year. It was a 223-pound male.
“Greene and Washington counties can't be far behind,” Ternent said.

Weather impacts archery bear harvest
Pennsylvania's five-day archery bear season has been a rough one for hunters the past few years.
“Weather probably has the most impact on bear harvest, with the acorn crop being No. 2,” said Mark Ternent, the Game Commission's black bear biologist.
Conditions for the archery hunt have ranged from “brutally cold” in 2013 to cold and wet last year, he said. Comparatively poor hunting has been the result.
In 2010, hunters took 269 bears. That spiked to 304 in 2011 before falling back to 262 in 2012, 197 in 2013 and 170 last year.
No one can control the weather, but hunters can up their odds for success this week by finding dense concentrations of acorns, Ternent said.
“Food is just as important, and maybe more important, in the early season than it is in later in November. If you can find one area that's producing more mast than other ones around you, that's where the bears will be,” he said.
If acorns are scattered, he said, bears will be here today, gone tomorrow, always on the move in an attempt to bulk up before winter. Conversely, they'll stick around an area rich in acorns, Ternent said.
Hunters who don't get a bear in the archery season can try the regular season, and in places, an extended season. In wildlife management unit 2C, for example, hunters can kill a bear on the Wednesday to Saturday of the first week of deer season from Dec. 2-5.
The only requirement is that hunters have a bear license. The rules for buying them have changed.
In years past, hunters had to buy their bear tag before opening day of the statewide season. This year, licenses can be purchased right up until the last season closes.
— Bob Frye
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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