Fewer bears taken in early seasons; more left for rifle hunters?
There are plenty of circumstances in life in which less is more. The 2021 Pennsylvania bear harvest, at least for now, is shaping out to be one of those scenarios.
With statewide firearms bear season set to kick off on Saturday Nov. 20 and run for four straight days, as well as an extended season in select wildlife management units, Pennsylvania gun hunters still should have plenty of bears to pursue.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website, which lists unofficial totals for bear harvests as they are updated within the digital reporting system, Keystone State hunters have taken quite a few bears this season, but only a fraction of Pennsylvania’s estimated 18,000-20,000 bruins, and fewer than they did last year by this time.
By the morning of Monday, Oct. 25, there were 785 bears taken in the combined bear seasons, which included Archery, Muzzleloader, and Special Firearms seasons. This would’ve been the day following the close of the inline muzzleloader/special firearms season, which concluded Saturday, Oct. 23.
Statewide archery bear season closed on Saturday, Nov. 6, and the grand total for all combined early seasons sits at 1,147 bears as of Sunday, Nov. 7 at 11 a.m.
Archery bear continues in Unit 5B until Nov. 19 and units 2B, 5C, and 5D until November 26, so those numbers could grow slightly.
Individual breakdowns of each early season’s unique totals are unavailable because the data is grouped into just one category on the website for all combined seasons.
However, it is specified that eight bears total were taken in the early archery season held in three primarily urban wildlife management units 2B, 5C and 5D from Sept. 18 to Oct 1.
It’s interesting to note that last year, 1,652 bears had been taken statewide by Friday Oct. 30, with two weeks of archery bear still remaining in the 2020 season, which is about 500 more bears than 2021’s entire early seasons’ preliminary totals thus far.
This year, the first Saturday of the early inline bear season, as well as the following Saturday, which ran concurrently with the special firearms season for seniors, youth, active-duty military members and disabled hunters saw heavy rain for at least portions of the day in many parts of the state, potentially contributing to lower harvest totals.
Keeping an eye on the daily statewide total updates, most days through archery season (once inline/special firearms concluded) added about 20-50 harvested bears statewide, depending on conditions and hunter turnout for each day.
Doing some math, the final two weeks of statewide archery bear added 362 bruins to the tally since the close of early inline and firearms season.
Despite a dip in early season numbers this year, some significantly large bears have already been taken. Thus far, each of the 10 largest bears harvested in Pennsylvania exceeded 500-pounds, the heaviest being a 681-pounder taken in Luzerne County.
Bears rounding out the remaining nine top-10 spots each fell within the 500-pound range: two in Potter County; two in Pike County; and one each in Carbon; Armstrong, Wayne; Lycoming and an additional one in Luzerne County.
Potter County currently leads the state with the most bears taken (64). Following closely behind are the well-known bear hotspots of Clinton (59), Tioga (59), Lycoming (58), and Pike (55) rounding out the top five with at least 50 bears each.
Up and coming bear destinations of Carbon (48), Bradford (43), Luzerne (43), Venango (40) and Monroe (36) finalize the top 10.
If the weather cooperates, it is expected that firearms hunters will greatly add to the overall bear harvest numbers for 2021, which are well below last year’s totals at this time.
Without a doubt, there are still bears out there to be had, and a few lucky hunters will be blessed to place their harvest tag on a prized Pennsylvania bruin that made it through the early seasons unscathed.