Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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PGC gives initial OK to bear bow season

By Bob Frye Capital Correspondent

Harrisburg — Jay Peake knows a lot about killing black bears
with a bow. He’s taken 17 that way himself, one in the Yukon, a
couple in Quebec, and the rest in Ontario.

He’s not too sure he could get even one in Pennsylvania.

“In Ontario, we hunt them over bait,” said Peake, who owns Jay
Peake Archery Supplies in Westmoreland County. “I don’t know any
other way. I mean, up there, bears are everywhere, but you never
see them unless you’re right over the bait.

“I don’t know how you’d get one with a bow without it.”

He may be about to find out. Pennsylvania Game Commis-sioners,
acting at their recent meeting in Harrisburg, gave preliminary
approval to what would be the state’s first-ever archery-only bear
hunting season. It would be held Wednesday and Thursday, Nov.
15-16, 2006, in wildlife management units 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A,
4A, 4B and 4D.

Hunters have always been allowed to use their archery equipment
during the traditional three-day firearms bear season, held the
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Talk of creating
a separate, archery-only bear season began back in 2002,
though.

Even back then, Game Commission black bear biologist Mark
Ternent expressed some reservations about possibly adding to the
bear harvest. He still has those concerns now.

Generally, the Game Commission wants hunters to shoot no more
than 25 percent of the total bear population — which stands at
about 14,000 animals — each year. That keeps the population in
check. Kill any more bears than that and the population could go
into decline, Ternent said.

No one knows how hard it’s going to be for archers to kill bears
in Pennsylvania, or how much they might add to the overall harvest,
he noted.

Peake, for example, has been hunting deer with a bow in McKean
County — which has lots of bears — for decades. In all those years,
he’s seen just two black bears from his stand.

Yet, Pennsylvania has 248,000 archers, Ternent said. Eighteen
percent of those already buy a bear license, but surveys have
indicated that as many as 50 percent of them might hunt bears if
given the chance in an archery-only season.

If even 1 percent of those hunters kill a bear, that will be too
many, Ternent said, unless commissioners shorten the regular bear
season or limit how many people can participate in it.

“Will the interest in an archery bear season among bowhunters
lead a lot of them to participate? We really don’t know, and that’s
the reason for the conservative approach,” Ternent said.

Other states with an archery bear season, like West Virginia,
have seen bowhunters take a greater percentage of the harvest as
time has gone on, he added.

Given those issues, Ternent said he would like to limit the
season to two weekdays for three years. That will allow him to
monitor its impact on the bear population. Changes can always be
made later, he added.

Commissioner Thomas Boop, of Northumberland County, said,
though, that he couldn’t see the wisdom in creating a new season if
it’s only going to be open on weekdays when most people can’t get
out.

“If you don’t have a Saturday, there’s not much point in doing
it,” Boop said. “I just think it’s unrealistic.”

The United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania have been pushing for an
archery-only bear season for a number of years. They “heartily
endorse” the conservatively-styled season that’s up for final
approval now, said spokesman Ed Wentzler.

They share some of Ternent’s concerns for the resource, so
they’re willing to start out slowly, with the idea that the season
can be adjusted to be longer or shorter later, depending on what
data is collected over the first three years.

“Rest assured, if those facts show we need to repeal, retreat or
adjust, UBP will lead in that effort,” Wentzler said.

There are other concerns with an archery bear season that need
consideration, Ternent added. It will be a burden on staff, for
starters. The commission will want archery bear hunters to check in
any animal they kill, just like rifle hunters do. But it probably
won’t make sense to run full-blown check stations, he said.
Instead, the commission will have to make other arrangements to see
every one of the bears.

Having a new season 10 days or so earlier than the traditional
bear season will also force the commission to cut short its work of
tranquilizing and collaring bears for research purposes, he
said.

Finally, there’s always the worry that a bowhunter might wound a
bear with an arrow, leading to negative publicity for sportsmen and
the agency.

It’s true that hunters have to know what they’re doing to kill a
bear with a bow, Peake said. He takes first-time bear hunters to
Canada with him each year. Before going, he makes each watch a
video on how to kill a bear with a bow, and how not to.

That’s important, he said, because a bear shot correctly will
die quickly. One that’s hit incorrectly may never be recovered.

“You know how a boxer takes a punch? That’s how a bear takes it
if you don’t hit him right,” Peake said.

“If you don’t hit him good, you’re never going to get him.
They’re tough like that. You just can’t shoot at them. You’ve got
to put an arrow where they live.”

Game Commissioners will have to weigh all of those concerns.
They must give the season final approval at their January meeting
for it to go into effect.

Peake thinks it would be worth their while to do so.

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