Heading into 2020s first statewide bear hunting seasons, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is speculating that hunters could break last year’s record bear harvest 4,653 this year.

The statewide archery and muzzleloader seasons on bears open Saturday, Oct. 17.

“At first glance, it seems an unlikely possibility given so many bears were taken last fall,” the commission noted in announcing the bear-hunting schedule for 2020. “But even with last fall’s phenomenal harvest, there’s still about 20,000 black bears roaming Penn’s Woods.

“And those new and extended bear seasons that helped hunters set the record harvest are back this fall. In fact, an additional week of hunting has been added to the archery bear season, and the four-day general bear season, which starts on a Saturday, will offer a day of Sunday hunting, giving bear hunters the whole weekend to pursue bears.”

Bear hunting in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the state started Sept. 19 with early archery seasons in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D. An early archery season also opened Oct. 3 in WMU 5B.

The statewide bear archery season opening Saturday will continue through Nov. 7, while the muzzleloader season will run through Oct. 17-24.

A firearms bear season runs Oct. 22-24 for junior and senior license holders, active-duty military and certain disabled persons’ permit holders.

The statewide general bear season will run Nov. 21-24.

Extended bear seasons will be held in WMUs 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A from Nov. 30-Dec. 5; and in WMUs 2B, 5B 5C and 5D from Nov. 30-Dec. 12.

“It’s hard to comprehend what’s happening in Pennsylvania bear hunting, especially if you can recall when the Game Commission was trying to resurrect the Commonwealth’s bear population back in the 1980s and 1990s,” noted commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “But here we are, on the cusp of another fall loaded with bear-hunting opportunities and a robust bear population.

“Pennsylvania bear hunting has never packed as much widespread opportunity and excitement as it does right now. Today bears inhabit most counties, providing closer-to-home hunting. But their populations also remain strong on their primary range in the northern tier.”

Last year, the commission sold a record 202,043 bear hunting licenses. This year bear license sales are 18% ahead of last year’s pace as of Oct. 9.

“Over the past three years, more than 10,000 black bears were taken by Pennsylvania hunters,” noted Mark Ternent, a veteran bear biologist who currently serves as a regional wildlife biologist for the agency’s Northcentral Region Office. “And although that’s sounds like a lot, it’s the third time it’s happened in the Commonwealth since 2003.

“Last year’s record bear harvest removed 20 to 25% of the state’s substantial bear population, but it isn’t expected to produce significant declines in bear numbers,” Ternent said. “We should have close to 20,000 bears statewide.”

Last year’s record harvest broke the previous record harvest set in 2011, when 4,350 bears were taken. In 2018, hunters took a total of 3,153 bears, which was Pennsylvania’s 11th best bear harvest. The only other year hunters took more than 4,000 bears was in 2005 when 4,164 were taken.

— Marcus Schneck/PennLive/Tribune News Service