As the fourth and final day of the firearms hunting season for black bear ended late Wednesday afternoon, Pennsylvania hunters had moved 2019 into the No. 8 spot of all-time top bear seasons.
The 2019 tally stood at 3,459 after the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bear check stations had closed for the day, according to the commission’s nearly real-time, online count.
That total squeaked past 2008’s final harvest figure of 3,458, with a few more hunters likely having killed bears but unable to get them into check stations before the stations closed.
In addition, hunters still have two extended bear seasons of varying lengths in selected wildlife management units that will begin Saturday, November 30, which is also the first day of the firearms hunting season for deer.
It’s likely the 2019 total will move up a notch or two on the top 10 list of years with the largest bear kills in Pennsylvania. The No. 7 year was 2013, when hunters killed 3,510 bears; No. 6 was 2009, when 3,512 bears were killed.
The top five years were 2011 with a bear harvest of 4,350, 2005 with a harvest of 4,164, 2015 with a harvest of 3,741, 2012 with a harvest of 3,623, and 2016 with a harvest of 3,529.
Filling out the top 10 years for Pennsylvania bear hunters is 2017 with 3,438 bears killed.
Last year’s harvest now ranks as No. 12 with a harvest total of 3,153 bears.
The commission nearly doubled the number of bear-hunting days this year by adding an October 19-26 muzzleloader season, an October 24-26 season for junior and senior hunters, and October 28-November 9 archery season – hunters had already harvested 1,871 bears.
With the new early seasons added in 2019, many observers are wondering if a harvest record could be set this year, when hunters have double the number of statewide bear-hunting days available to them.
The largest bear killed to date this year are one weighing 813 pounds taken in Monroe County in the firearms season; 747 pounds, Luzerne County, firearms season; 743 pounds, Luzerne County, firearms season; 696 pounds, Carbon County, firearms season; 661 pounds, Wayne County, firearms season; 657 pounds, Columbia County, firearms season; 656 pounds, Luzerne County, firearms season; 631 pounds, Clarion County, non-archery early seasons; 630 pounds, Schuylkill County, archery season; and 623 pounds, Clinton County, firearms season.
The top harvest counties this year so far are Clinton, 251 bears harvested; Lycoming, 242; Tioga, 219; Potter, 153; Pike, 131; Luzerne, 124; Warren, 115; McKean, 109; Clearfield, 102; and Elk, 100.
The state has maintained a substantial bear population of about 20,000 the past 4 years, despite hunters removing more than 17,000 bears from the statewide population over the past 5 years.
“It’s hard for some to imagine Pennsylvania has such a vibrant black bear population,” noted Matt Lovallo, the Game Commission’s Game Mammals Section Supervisor. “But bears are incredibly adaptable. They can fit in almost anywhere that offers them cover and reliable food sources. It’s why bears are found in more places in Pennsylvania than any time in the Game Commission’s existence.”