Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Weather limits bear season opener

Quehanna, Pa. — Bear season was rather short, but sweet, for Brian Hill of Vandergrift, Armstrong County. 
His group of 22 hunters targets fenced deer exclosures on state forest or state game lands for their drives. For the first drive of the morning in the Elk State Forest, he drew a watcher position. According to Hill, they picked this location – a new one – for their starting point, because one of their camp members had seen a large bear in that area a week before the season.
“Our group started driving through the brush at daybreak, but I didn’t see the bear until nearly 8 o’clock,” Hill related. At first, it was sky-lined at the top of the hill, and it wasn’t safe to shoot. Then he dropped down the hill and I was able to make a 25-30 yard shot with my .270.”
At 493 pounds, Hill’s bear was the largest weighed at the Quehanna check station on the first day of the season.
“This is just utterly amazing. You hardly ever even see a bear and now I got one,” Hill said. He is getting a full body mount of his trophy bruin.
Hill’s bear was one of 1,623 harvested on the opening day, Nov. 22. This compares favorably with the preliminary harvest of 1,320 on the opening day of the 2013 season, and 1,530 taken on the opening day of 2012. The total harvest in 2012 was the third highest on record.
If you wanted to experience weather extremes, this bear season had a lot to offer – near record cold and an ice storm on the opening morning, and then record or near-record heat and high winds on the second day. On top of that, heavy snow fell in the eastern half of the state on the last day of the statewide four-day season.
A single-digit low temperature throughout the central part of the state might have prompted more than a few hunters to delay their entry afield on the opening morning. If that wasn’t enough, freezing rain hit the mountains later in the day, beginning midmorning in the southwest and extending to the northeastern counties by mid-afternoon. 
Portions of I-80 and I-99 and many other routes were closed for part of the day. 
“The light rain hit our area in late morning, and by noon, the back roads were just horrendous,” noted Regis Senko, Northwest Region Information and Education supervisor.        
Some hunters were trapped on mountaintops because it was too icy to drive down, while others had to wait an hour or more before roads were salted so that they could take their bears to a check station.
 Two northcentral hunters related that they had walked across an old railroad bridge in the morning to get to their hunting spots. When they returned in the late afternoon, the bridge was too icy to safely cross, so they had to ford the stream.
Most of the northwestern counties had snow cover during the opening day and for a week preceding the hunt. Here, at least on the opening day, weather had a positive impact on the harvest.
“We had 5 to 6 inches of snow, and hunters could easily see areas where bears had been active,” said Senko. “The snow was melted by Monday, however.”
The snow cover likely explains the strong opening day tally for hunters in the northwestern counties. The region produced 248 bears that day – nearly 50 more than in 2013 or 2012.
The ice possibly impacted the opening day harvest in the southwest, as well. According to wildlife education specialist Patrick Snickles, two of their check stations (in Indiana and Westmoreland counties) reported totals that were well below average, while the Somerset County station processed 101 bears – a near record total.  
The weather was beautiful on Nov. 24, maybe too warm for staging bear drives the second day of the season. Hunters tallied only 417 bears that day, which compares to 724 harvested on day two last year, 556 shot in 2012, or the 773 bears taken on the second day in 2011. The additional 417 bears brought the preliminary season total to 2040.
Every bear season has its oddities. The opening day produced a small cinnamon-phase bear from Mifflin County. On the second day of the season, three bears, each tipping the scales at over 500 pounds,  were harvested from just one township near Benezette, in Elk County.
Big bears are the norm for Pennsylvania hunters. By the end of day two, the most recent data available at press time, the largest bear had an estimated live weight of 677 pounds. James Hultberg, of Pittsfield, tagged the large bruin in Warren County.
Other large bears include a 623-pound male harvested in Union County by Fred Stoltzfus, of Lewisburg; a 598-pound male shot in Butler County by Jeffrey  McClymonds, of Slippery Rock; a 574-pound male taken in Blair County, by Ray Golden, of Tyrone; a 560-pound male harvested in Somerset County, by Derek  Wheeler, of Uniontown; a 559-pound male shot in Tioga County by K.L. Sarangoulis, of Reading; a 558-pound male taken in Potter County, by Colton Group, of Landisburg; a 557-pound male harvested in Cambria County, by Brett Robine, of Irwin; a 553-pound male shot in Clearfield County, by Quentin McClarren, of West Decatur; and a 552-pound male taken in Armstrong County, by Travis Crawford, of  Kittanning.
Data from only the first two days of the regular season was available at press time. Archery and other early bear season harvest data still is being entered into the Game Commission’s database, and the extended season is yet to come.
Based on past harvests, this year’s total should be one of the top 10 harvests on record – possibly even in the top three. 

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