Bear hunters in Pennsylvania, of which there likely will be the most ever this hunting season, will have more opportunities to pursue the animals this year.
A record 220,471 hunters — 211,627 of them Pennsylvania residents — bought bear hunting licenses in 2020. That was up from the previous record of 202,043 in 2019 and 174,869 in 2018.
Bear license buyers this year will have a statewide three-week archery bear season, a one-week muzzleloader bear season that offers three days of rifle hunting for certain classifications of hunters, including juniors and seniors, and a four-day statewide firearms bear season that includes a Sunday.
Added to that are opportunities — some already under way — to take a bear with a bow in a handful of Wildlife Management Units.
All of that was offered last year, too. But there’s also something new for 2021.
As in the past, many wildlife management units will allow bear hunting during the first, and in some units even the second, week of the statewide firearms deer season. But, unlike last year, when bears didn’t become legal game until the first Monday, hunters in 2021 will be able to harvest them on the opening weekend of deer season, both Saturday and Sunday.
Despite increasing numbers of hunters with expanding hunting opportunities, Pennsylvania’s bear population continues at near historic levels.
“We’ve got many, many black bears, including some of the biggest in the country, spread across the Commonwealth and within reach of hunters everywhere,” said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “Plus, our various bear seasons give hunters the opportunity to pursue them in numerous ways throughout the fall.
“This is an exciting time to be a bear hunter. It’s no wonder more and more people are taking to the bear woods every autumn.”
Emily Carrollo, commission bear biologist added, “Pennsylvania has been a bear hunting destination for many, many years. I don’t expect that to change. Despite large harvests in the past, we’ve still got plenty of bears, and lots of big ones, out there.”
Annual bear harvests also continue at historically high levels. In the six and a half decades between 1915 and 1979, hunters typically harvested 424 bears per huntable year. Hunters didn’t harvest more than 1,000 bears in a single year until 1984, more than 2,000 bears until 1989 and more than 3,000 bears until 2000. They harvested more than 4,000 bears in a single year three times since 2005, two of those since 2011, with the record of 4,653 coming in 2019. Nine of the 10 largest harvests ever occurred in the past 13 years, with the 2020 harvest of 3,621 bears ranking sixth.
Pennsylvania’s hunters took 3,608 black bears in the 2020 seasons. That was down from 2019’s record of 4,653, but still the second-largest harvest in the past five years.
Bowhunters — with two weeks to hunt rather than one, as in the past — took an archery record 955 bears. The harvest was 1,041 in the 2-year-old muzzleloader/special firearms seasons and 1,177 in the general firearms season. The harvest in the extended season was 435. Hunters in the early season took 13 animals.
Hunters took bears in 59 of 67 counties and 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 wildlife management units.
Potter County led the state in bear harvest; hunters killed 188 there. Lycoming County was next best, producing 186 bears, followed by Tioga, with 185; Clearfield, with 158; Monroe, with 152; Clinton, with 150; Elk, with 140; Luzerne, with 125; Centre, with 117; Bradford, with 108; Pike County, with 105; Wayne, with 100; and Carbon, with 97.
The largest bear harvested was a the 719-pound male taken with a crossbow last Nov. 7 in Ayr Township, Fulton County, by Abby Strayer of McConnellsburg. Hunters also took numerous other bears exceeding 600 pounds.
Opportunity and variety mark the 2021 bear seasons, which began with archery hunting on Sept. 18 in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D. The season runs through Nov. 26 there, including Sundays, Nov. 14 and 21.
Archery hunting is permitted in WMU 5B from Oct. 2 to Nov. 19, including Sunday, Nov. 14.
Archery bear hunting is permitted in all other WMUs from Oct. 16 through Nov. 6.
The statewide muzzleloader bear season runs Oct. 16-23, while the statewide special firearms season for junior and senior license holders, mentored hunters ages 16 and under, active-duty military and certain disabled persons’ permit holders runs Oct. 21-23.
The general statewide bear season is set for Nov. 20-23, including Sunday, Nov. 21.
Extended bear hunting is allowed in WMUs 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A from Nov. 27 through Dec. 4, including Sunday, Nov. 28.
Bear season in WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D runs Nov. 27 through Dec. 11, including Sunday, Nov. 28.