Huntingdon, Pa. —When it comes to black bears, Pennsylvania has the best of both worlds.
The Keystone State usually ranks among the top five in overall kills of any state or province in North America. And there are some truly world-class specimens among the thousands of bruins hunters take here each fall.
You might ask, what does it take to make a true trophy bear? Skull measurements (the length added to the width) are used to make that determination. A skull measuring 19 inches is needed to make the Pennsylvania record book, and there are currently 736 such entries.
Normally a bear needs to weigh in excess of 400 pounds to have such a skull measurement, so that weight is the benchmark used here to determine trophy quality.
Last season, hunters took a record 4,350 bears during the combined bear seasons. Bears were harvested in 54 of the state’s 67 counties, so bruins are widely distributed across the state.
As for trophy-class bears, there were 124 taken last season in 38 counties. That means that a trophy bear is apt to live in an portion of the state where bears reside.
Conscious of high gas prices and the lack of hunting time for many, let’s take a look at the best possibilities for taking a big bear by regions of the state.
In the northwest region, hunters took a total of seven bruins over the 400-pound mark last season.
Forest County led the way with a total of two trophy bears out of the 90 taken there. As for where to concentrate your efforts in this county, the Allegheny National Forest would be the best bet. It offers plenty of public hunting land, and offers out-of-the-way locations where a bear can live and grow to extra large proportions.
The only problem that you might encounter here is getting a big bear out of the backwoods – a challenge that tends to keep the hunting pressure low.
In the southwest region of the state, there were 11 large bears brought to the scales during the 2011 season from six counties. Cambria County led the way with three big bears, while Armstrong, Indiana and Somerset each had two.
Good bets for public land bruins in this region come from around the Prince Gallitzin State Park area, as well as the portion of the Forbes State Forest located on Laurel Mountain.
The northcentral portion of the state, typically the area that dominates the state in the number of bruins taken, also has a lot to offer for trophy potential.
Last year, hunters brought in 45 bears of trophy size, with Potter County leading the way with 13. This county boasts more than a quarter of a million acres of public land tracts to hunt and a big bear could call any one of these its home.
Food determines the location of the bears in this region, and the biggest boars will claim the best food sources. Find the food and you may cross paths with a big bear this season.
The sleeper county in the northcentral part of the state would be Centre. Associated with Penn State University much more than with hunting, this county has more than 230,000 acres of public land for hunting. Hunters last season managed to down six big bruins in this county. This year, reports of bear activity are common all across the region, but you may want to concentrate your efforts in the Tussey Mountain region.
In the southcentral part of the state, a dozen big bears were taken in 2011. Surprisingly, a couple of those came from the fringe of what is considered bear habitat.
Franklin County, with a total kill of 13 bears, produced two big bruins. This county does not contain a lot of mountainous areas which tend to attract bears, so key in on the western and northern border areas for your best bet at intercepting a big bear.
The northeast corner of the state produced the most big bears during last year’s hunting season with 47. Bradford, Pike and Wayne counties led the way with eight big bears each.
Not surprisingly, the best options for big bears in this area are in two key locations: any land in close proximity to the numerous developments in the region and the vast array of swamps scattered across the Pocono region.
The urban southeast portion of the state, where the number of bruins is increasing but habitat continues to diminish, only produced two big bears last season.
One was taken in Northampton County and the other in Schuylkill County. While none were taken in Dauphin County, the mountainous area of State Game Land 211 holds great trophy potential.
It is rugged country, with plenty of steep mountainsides that bruins call home.
Trying to pinpoint a precise area to take a big bear when the overall success rate of bear hunting is less than 5 percent is a difficult one at best. However, looking at the hot spots from last season can be the first step.
This information, in addition to recent recordbook entries, should be enough to point you in the right direction – woods that have the potential of producing those big bruins.