Changing Pennsylvania bear hunting as we know it?
Keeping with the apparent trend of sweeping change for January meetings over the last several years, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners offered preliminary approval for a host of modifications to the layout of next year’s big game hunting seasons.
Among those proposals were several changes specifically pertaining to increased bear hunting opportunities. These proposals come at the tail end of the lowest bear harvest in the last 11 years. In 2018, Pennsylvania bear hunters took only 3,153 of the state’s estimated 20,000 bruins. In 2017, hunters harvested 3,438 bears.
Unfavorable weather conditions may have contributed to these below-average bear harvests over the last two years, with less hunters willing to brave the elements, sows going to den earlier and solitary boars hunkering down and moving less.
To compensate for this shortcoming, the commissioners gave preliminary approval to the following bear season changes:
- Expand the mid-October muzzleloader and special firearms deer seasons to include bears statewide.
- Increase the length of the statewide archery bear season to two weeks and move it earlier to immediately follow the muzzleloader and special firearms bear seasons.
- Expand the four-day extended bear seasons to six days in most wildlife management units where they are held.
These proposals are almost certain to divide bear hunters on the issue, as some will welcome the expanded opportunities to harvest one of Pennsylvania’s most coveted big-game trophies, while others fear the changes may be too liberal and could dramatically impact the state’s thriving bear population.
As an avid archer and bear hunter, I’ll admit I am torn. I’m a bit nervous about having bear season open for three weeks in October and the toll inline and crossbow hunters could potentially take on bear numbers (nearly two-thirds of the 424 archery bears in 2018 were shot with a crossbow), but I’m also excited about the idea of having more time to pursue bears with archery tackle.
Those who strictly hunt bears in firearms season might not be too keen about less bears being available come November, but then again, they will also potentially have more days to hunt them in extended-season WMUs.
It could also change the way we hunt bears in general. Will camps organize muzzleloader and archery drives in mid-October? Will senior and junior hunters get to harvest a large portion of the state’s bears in just three days, during a time when weather is pleasant? Will fewer bears survive the season, simply because they’ll be out feeding heavily on oak flats and in cornfields in October versus going to den for the winter? Will bear meat spoil in warmer temps? Will firearms bear season camp numbers dwindle? Will more archery and inline hunters buy bear tags? Will more bear hunters buy archery and muzzleloader tags? If they do, I certainly hope they give themselves enough time to become proficient with those hunting methods. The last thing we want is wounded bears at the hands of inexperienced hunters, but who knows what will happen.
Only time will tell the outcome of these proposed changes. Some may pass. All may pass. None may pass. Regardless, we need to keep a close eye on the harvest numbers and make adjustments if necessary to maintain a viably sustainable bear population for the future. We also need to keep that population in check. There are definite pros and cons, and I suppose at this point I’m skeptically optimistic.
The public may offer comments on all proposed 2019-20 seasons and bag limits, as well as other board actions, before the PGC’s next quarterly meeting April 8-9, when 2019-20 seasons and bag limits will be finalized.
Pennsylvania offers some of the best bear hunting in the country. I hope it remains that way, whether things change or not.