MOUNTAIN TOP, Pa. — Devon Woolfolk didn’t expect to see a bear while he was archery hunting in Rice Township recently.
In fact, Woolfolk wasn’t anticipating a bear walking in front of his treestand and offering a broadside shot.
But just in case the unexpected happened, Woolfolk purchased a bear license days earlier.
And it’s a good thing he did.
The Mountain Top resident spent the morning watching a small buck chase a doe 75 yards away. If the buck approached close enough, Woolfolk thought, he would take the shot.
All of a sudden, the buck and doe bolted away in opposite directions and Woolfolk wondered what caused the quick escape.
And then he saw a black blob appear on the hill where the deer had stood.
It was a bear, and Woolfolk watched in amazement as it slowly ambled directly toward him.
“He just kept coming and it was playing out perfectly, which made me nervous,” Woolfolk said. “Once you get your hopes up, that’s when it will head the other way.”
But the bear didn’t change course, so Woolfolk readied his compound bow.
Once the bruin approached within 50 yards, Woolfolk started picking out shooting lanes in the woods. At 25 yards, he knew exactly where the bear would cross.
And at 13 yards, the bear stopped broadside to Woolfolk. With the scenario perfectly calculated, Woolfolk was ready and his shot was true, sending an arrow into the bear’s chest. The bruin ran off and Woolfolk collected his thoughts.
“I was a little shocked. I just shot at a bear with my bow,” he said. “I knew it was a good shot.”
Fifty-five yards away Woolfolk found the bear and right away he knew he would need help. Woolfolk figured the bear weighed around 250 pounds, and his brother, Kyle, arrived to lend a hand.
“We couldn’t even move him,” Woolfolk said. “Other friends came to help and we rolled the bear onto a tarp, everyone grabbed a corner and we moved it a few feet at a time. It took us more than four hours to get it out of the woods.”
While Woolfolk’s shot calculation was perfect, it turns out his estimate of the bear’s weight was a bit underestimated. Pennsylvania Game Commission special investigator Dave Allen checked the bear and he used a chest tape to estimate the animal’s weight at 502 pounds. To harvest a large bear – Woolfolk’s first – in only his third year of archery hunting made for a memory he’ll never forget.
But there was another aspect that made the hunt even more memorable. Woolfolk got to share the experience with his grandfather, Paul Sakowski, who passed away five days later at the age of 100.
“In the nursing home he was telling everyone about my bear. It means a lot to me that I was able to make my grandfather proud one last time,” Woolfolk said.
History behind the bear
Game Commission biologist Kevin Wenner said Woolfolk’s bear – a male – was captured by the agency on Oct. 3, 2015 on Nuangola Road after it was trying to den under a house. The bear was tagged and released on State Game Lands 91 in Bear Creek Township. Wenner didn’t have age data for the bear, but he said it takes upwards of nine years for a bruin to reach 500 pounds.
“It’s a big bear. There were several bears in the archery harvest that weighed over 400 pounds, but this is the only one over 500 pounds that I’m aware of,” Wenner said.
The archery bear season ran from Oct. 30 to Nov. 4, two weeks earlier than prior years. The change was made to afford archery hunters who were already in the woods for deer a chance to harvest a bear as well. In the northeast region, archery hunters harvested 119 bears this season, more than double the average annual harvest. Wenner said the statewide archery bear harvest was over 300, and the north-central region topped the list with 164.
“Archery hunters have been telling me they were seeing bears in the weeks leading up to the season, so they had a chance to pattern them,” Wenner said. “Plus, there’s a lot of corn still standing and plenty of beech nuts, so bears have remained active at those food sources.”
That all has been reflected in the archery harvest numbers in Pennsylvania this season, at least in the northeast region. This year, 119 bruins have been taken in the region by bowhunters (including six illegal kills). That’s up significantly from the previous high – at least since 2010 – of 68 bruins taken last year. That was the first time during that period that more than 60 bears were harvested by bowhunters.