Pennsylvania Game Commission discusses archery season for both deer and bears in early November

For Pennsylvania bowhunters, it’s a dream scenario.

Having the last week of archery deer season – in mid-November during the rut – open to bear hunting, too.

Although Pennsylvania game commissioners spent a lot of time discussing the concept during their recent quarterly meeting,  it‘s an idea whose time likely has not come.

Still, according to Commissioner David Putnam, of Centre County – in this time of wide crossbow use opening archery opportunities across the commonwealth –  many Pennsylvania sportsmen have said they would love to see it.

“We get a lot of comments from archers who see it as a waste when a bear walks by them during deer season and they can’t shoot it,” he said. “We have gotten lots of requests to greatly expand the archery bear season.”

Pennsylvania’s burgeoning bear population could withstand the pressure of expanded bowhunting, according to Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist. He told commissioners they face a social decision.

“From a biological perspective, additional harvest would not be detrimental at this time,” he said. “The population estimate for 2015 was 20,000 bears in the state, so we have certainly shown that we can sustain a 4,000-bear harvest. We did it in 2005 and we did it again in 2011. 

“Do we have the latitude for additional harvest without causing detrimental effects?” Ternent added. “We feel like we do – it’s just a question of where you want to put that harvest.”

Ternent figures allowing bowhunters to hunt both deer and bears during the last week of archery der season would result in the taking of another 1,000 or so bears. He explained to commissioners how he came up with that estimate. 

In the archery season, Pennsylvania has about 20,000 hunters participating, Ternent noted.  And those hunters have about 1 percent to 1½ percent success. 

“When we looked at this a few years ago, we looked at the last week of the archery deer season and the best estimates that we could come up with then was about 900 to 1,000 bears would probably be harvested,” he said.

“Because there are a lot of archery deer hunters who do buy bear licenses, they would be potential archery bear hunters at that point with an estimated 1 percent to 1½ percent success rate that we see now in archery bear season.

“So, could we sustain the taking of another 900 bears? We probably could for a year or two until we can get a feel for what the real numbers are. It is just an administrative social political question about where we add that additional harvest.”

But expanding bear-hunting opportunity into the last week of archery deer-hunting season may well have serious ramifications for the deer population and the social fabric of deer-hunting seasons, Putnam pointed out.

Allowing bowhunters to take both deer and bears during November would likely motivate more archers to turn out.

The commissioner said there is already a lot of angst among sportsmen who only hunt deer during the firearms season that archers take most of the big bucks before rifle hunters get into the woods.

“If we put those additional guys out there hunting for bears they are going to be shooting Christmas bucks – that is one of our concerns as commissioners, how do we apportion the resource? We surely could withstand that additional bear harvest but we are concerned that it would add to the antlered deer harvest.”

Ternent admitted that he has concerns about allowing bowhunters to kill bears during the last week of archery deer season unrelated to bear numbers.

The last week of the archery deer season is the most popular time and almost a quarter of the deer harvest occurs during the week, he explained. 

“So we would be adding more hunters. There is the question, would you be disturbing the archery deer hunters by adding more hunters, and there would be added harvest of deer and bears, and you would have the administrative question of how do you get those bears checked,” he said.

“So there is a whole list of potential administrative and social political hurdles to think about.”

Pennsylvania bear range is expanding westward, according to the biologist. He suggested that the day will come when the state should have extended bear hunting during, perhaps, both firearms and archery deer seasons. 

The fact that we the commission can open extended bear hunting during firearms deer season in some of the wildlife management units in the core of the state’s historic bear range  and maintain that extended  bear  hunting for several years suggests that that those harvest levels may become more the norm than the exception, Ternent said.

“But right now we are more focused on those units where there is high conflict potential. Those are the units we want to focus on first because bear -human conflicts drive the use of these management tools.”

Putnam asked whether the bear population has exceeded the social carrying capacity in Pennsylvania. “We thought that it was about 18,000, we are now at about 20,000 – should the commission should set some kind of limit?”

Ternent contended that the commission would have liked to check the bear population at 18,000, but the low harvest in 2014 – just like the one in 2007 – that triggered an increase. 

“The difference between now and where we were in 2007 is that we have a lot more of the state open to extended bear hunting and we have a much bigger archery season for bears and the statewide five-day season, so  now with all the added hunting opportunity that was not available in 2007, we hope to go back to 18,000 bears.”



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