Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Kevin Wenner didn’t hesitate when asked if this year’s bear season could break the record harvest of 4,653.

“Absolutely,” he said.

It’s on a record pace.

At the conclusion of the archery, muzzleloader, and special firearms bear seasons, which occurred in October through Nov. 7, the total preliminary harvest this year stood at 1,950. Last year, during those same seasons, hunters harvested 1,901 bruins. Another 1,629 bears were taken during the general season, followed by 1,117 in the extended season, to establish a new record for overall harvest.

With the four-day general season set to begin Nov. 21, can the record pace continue this season?

Wenner said it can, for a number of reasons.

“Last year’s record harvest kept us status quo as far as the bear population,” said Wenner, who works out of the PGC’s Northeast Region Office in Dallas. “We haven’t detected any noticeable difference in bear complaint numbers or sightings, and during our trapping efforts throughout the year, nothing dropped off after the 2019 record harvest.”

The agency estimates the state’s bear population to be about 20,000, which is in line with previous years.

Over the last three years, more than 10,000 bears were taken in the state, according to Mark Ternent, a veteran Game Commission bear biologist who serves as a regional wildlife biologist for the agency’s Northcentral Region Office.

“Although that sounds like a lot, it’s the third time it’s happened in the Commonwealth since 2003,” Ternent said. “Last year’s record bear harvest removed 20 to 25 percent of the state’s substantial bear population, but it isn’t expected to produce significant declines in bear numbers.”

Further boosting the chance of another record harvest is an increase in hunting opportunity this year, as an additional week was added to the archery bear season and the general season will include a Sunday (Nov. 22), giving hunters an entire weekend to pursue bruins.

Wenner said back-to-back record harvests could result in a decrease in the population, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing in the northeast. Bear complaints from residential areas and crop damage issues continue to increase, he said, and a slight drop in the population could alleviate those problems.

Like the rest of the state, things are off to a good start in the northeast region. Last year, 460 bears were taken in the archery and muzzleloader seasons in the region. As of Nov. 5, this year’s harvest stood at 496. That’s not the only thing trending up heading into the general bear season. As of Oct. 25, bear license sales were up by more than 17 percent over last year, when a record 202,043 bear licenses were sold. About a month ahead of the four-day regular firearms bear season, more than 191,000 hunters bought their 2020 bear licenses.

But with a sizable percentage of the harvest occurring before the general season starts, will that lessen the chance for hunters hitting the woods Nov. 21? Wenner doesn’t believe it will, but hunters have to change their approach.

“During the early seasons, the focus is to hunt over food sources such as corn fields. In the rifle season, hunters should focus more on habitat. The rifle and extended seasons (which runs concurrently with portions of the statewide deer season), there is a lot more hunter pressure and that habitat, such as swamps and clearcuts, becomes more critical to bears as they are pushed,” he said.

“Are there less bears available in the rifle season? Yes. But the opportunity is still there and it would be silly to pack it in.”

Wenner expects the opening weekend of bear season to be busy with the addition of Sunday, which he said will be another high participation day.

When it comes to Sunday hunting, however, he said there is a major change for the extended bear season. The start of the firearms deer is Nov. 28, and the following Sunday (Nov. 29) is also open this year for the first time. Because Sundays are for single species only, Wenner said just deer can be hunted that day and the extended bear season will start Monday, Nov. 30.

In addition to bear numbers and hunting opportunity, the aspect that routinely garners the most attention each year is the possibility to harvest one of the many enormous bruins found in the state.

The largest bear taken last season was an 813-pound male harvested on the opening day of the general season in Smithfield Twp., Monroe County, by Victor M. Vassalluzzo of Kintnersville.

“Our capture records from the summer and fall show numerous bears over 500 pounds that we tagged and released,” Wenner said. “They easily packed on 100 pounds or more since then, so there’s definitely some heavyweights out there.”

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