Friday, November 18, 2016

Signs point to fabulous bear-hunting season in Western Pennsylvania

The stage is set for another big year.
Ask Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Mark Ternent what determines the size of the black bear harvest from year to year, and he will point to four factors: the number of bears, the number of bear hunters, the availability of food and the weather.
The 2016 season already is three-for-four.
The state has about 20,000 bears, Ternent said. That's a record.
The number of bear hunters is high and climbing, too. Last year there were 175,314, he said. That too, was a record.
Wild food supplies, meanwhile — particularly in regard to red oak acorns — are booming across most of the state. Ternent said bears that might otherwise den early will be active for a while to come as they take advantage of the fat-building feast.
That leaves only the weather.
“If you can predict the weather, you're better than me,” Ternent said. “We'll just have to wait until the first day and see what we get.”
There's not much waiting left to do.
The statewide archery bear season runs from Monday to Friday. The regular firearms season opens Saturday, then comes back in Nov. 21-23.
And in some wildlife management units, hunters can take bears in deer season. The beginning and end of those extended seasons vary — there is no extended season in unit 3A this year, for example, but for the first time ever there is in 1B — so hunters should check their regulations book.
In all cases, chances are hunters will do well.
Eight of the 10 largest harvests have occurred in the past 11 years. Last year's total was 3,748, enough to rank third all time.
The record kill came in 2011, when hunters took 4,350 bears. They took 4,164 in 2005.
Few states can match that.
Hunters killed 3,195 bears in West Virginia last fall. They took 3,118 in North Carolina and 3,016 in Maine. Virginia gave up 2,331, and New York saw its second-best harvest ever, 1,715.
Meanwhile, New Jersey and Maryland already have concluded their 2016 seasons. Both ranked second all-time in their state's histories. The New Jersey kill was 549 animals, and Maryland totaled 167.
And while Ohio has bears, there aren't enough to sustain hunting.
Ternent is expecting — and hoping for — another large kill here this fall. His goal is to take 20 percent or so of the population annually.
The potential is there, said Mario Piccirilli, a land management group supervisor with the commission in Mercer and Venango counties. He said bears are being sighted “on a daily basis.”
“A little preseason scouting for their food sources, such as corn, acorns and soft mast, will benefit those hunters seeking to fill their bear tag,” Piccirilli said.
Finding the food really is the key, especially for hunters who will be out on their own, Ternent said. And that's how most Pennsylvania bear hunters operate.
Putting on organized drives using large groups — up to 25 hunters per party are allowed by regulation — is an effective way to take bruins.
But a 2010 survey of licensed bear hunters found three out of four still hunt — i.e. sneak through the woods slowly — or simply take a stand and wait for a bear to come by. More hunters do a little of both than hunt any other way, the survey said.
There is nothing wrong with that approach, Ternent said. In fact, it's what he would do.
“If I was bear hunting instead of working the bear check station, I'd go out and find a spot with a lot of food, maybe acorns, with some mountain laurel or other thick cover nearby. I'd sit on that spot until 10:30 or so, then get up and move around a little bit, then go back there in the afternoon, sitting from about 2:30 on until dark,” Ternent said.
“You don't need a gang to be successful. You can do it on your own.”
As for where to sit and stand, bears roam far and wide, he said. A male's home range can be 20 square miles, a female's half that.
Movements are seasonal, though, Ternent said. At this time of year especially, when bears are layering on fat in preparation for a winter-long hibernation, they stay where the food is most abundant, especially if that's acorns.
“Bears take the easy route if they can. If they can find a place that has a lot of food, they stay until they eat it all,” Ternent said.
“That can make it easier to pattern them.”
Now, if only the weather cooperates.
“Just a little bit of snow, with cool temperatures, that's ideal for bear hunting,” Ternent said.
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via @bobfryeoutdoors

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