HARRISBURG, PA – If you hunt Pennsylvania black bears, maybe for years without harvesting one, now is not the time to give up hope.
It’s true the odds of tagging a bear can seem long. Only somewhere between 1.5% and 2.5% of bear license holders get a bear in any given year.
But bears are again plentiful and widespread across Pennsylvania, with an estimated 15,000 roaming the woods. The 2023 seasons are long and varied, offering lots of opportunities, including hunting on three Sundays. And history shows there’s always reason for optimism.
In 2022, nine hunters born in the 1930s harvested a black bear. One of them, a 96-year-old, took his first bear after 82 years of trying.
There’s nothing to say a hunter who gets a bear can’t get another either. The Game Commission surveyed about 2,100 bear hunters about their experiences, habits and more. One question centered on their level of success.
“Most hunters, 43%, only ever harvested one bear,” said Game Commission black bear biologist Emily Carrollo. “But 11% harvested five or more bears in their lifetime, and 1.5% harvested more than 10 bears in their lifetime.
“And the average number of bears harvested per hunter in a lifetime was 1.5.”
There’s some bear hunting going on already. The archery bear season in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2B and 5C and 5D – which surround Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively – began on Sept. 16. It runs through Nov. 24, including two Sundays, Nov. 12 and 19.
The statewide archery bear season kicks off Oct. 14 and runs through Nov. 4 in all other WMUs.
Muzzleloader hunters can pursue bears statewide from Oct. 14 to 21, while the statewide special firearms bear season for junior and senior license holders, active-duty military and disabled persons’ permit holders runs Oct. 19 to 21.
The general statewide firearms bear season goes from Nov. 18 to 21, including Sunday, Nov. 19.
Bear hunters get one last chance in a few WMUs still later, in the extended firearms bear season that overlaps with the statewide firearms deer season. A hunter with a valid bear license can take a bear from Nov. 25 through Dec. 2, including on Sunday, Nov. 26, in WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4E and 5A, and from Nov. 25 through Dec. 9, including Sunday, Nov. 26, in WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D.
Hunters should be aware extended season bear hunting no longer is permitted in WMUs 1B, 2C, 4A, 4B and 4D, as was the case last year. The Game Commission no longer needs the season to meet its bear management objectives in those units, Carrollo said.
Through all of those seasons, the limit is one bear per hunter per year.
Last year, during the 2022 seasons, hunters harvested 3,170 bears overall. That was down from 3,621 in 2021, but still enough to rank the harvest as the 14th largest all time.
Pennsylvania’s all-time best bear season came in 2019, when hunters harvested 4,653.
Last year hunters got bears in 58 of the state’s 67 counties and all but one WMU. Notably, the harvest was spread out – more evenly than ever before – with seven taken in the special early archery season, 737 taken in the statewide archery season, 712 in the muzzleloader/special firearms seasons, 1,051 in the general season and 663 in the extended season.
Some of those bears were especially noteworthy for their size.
Cory Bennett, of Toms River, N.J., took a 755-pound bear with a muzzleloader Oct. 15 in Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County. That was the largest harvested in 2022, though still short of the all-time record. The heaviest bear ever taken in Pennsylvania was an 875-pounder harvested in 2010 in Pike County.
Other large bears taken in 2022 were: a 746-pounder taken with a rifle on Nov. 22 in Barrett Township, Monroe County, by James Laquino, of Canadensis; a 705-pounder taken with a muzzleloader on Oct. 15 in Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County, by Timothy Moffet, of East Greenville; a 693-pounder taken with a rifle on Oct. 20 in Abbott Township, Potter County, by Elijah Smucker, of Paradise; a 681-pounder taken with a muzzleloader on Oct. 22 in Bradford Township, Clearfield County, by William Swoope, of Woodland; a 681-pounder taken with a bow on Oct. 21 in Cumberland Valley Township, Bedford County, by Cole Schnably, of Bedford; a 657-pounder taken with a rifle on Oct. 22 in Gallagher Township, Clinton County, by Lane Charles, of Millersville; a 650-pounder taken with a rifle on Nov. 21 in Hazle Township, Luzerne County, by Joshua Monahan, of Ashland; a 634-pounder taken with a rifle on Nov. 27 in Asylum Township, Bradford County, by Nicholas Menzen, of Cogan Station; and a 633-pounder taken with a muzzleloader on Oct. 22 in Cummings Township, Lycoming County, by Holden Long, of Lock Haven.
Among counties, Tioga County produced the most bears, giving up 187 last season. Lycoming County ranked second with 152, followed by Bradford and Luzerne counties with 126 each, Centre County with 122, Potter County with 119, Clearfield and Monroe counties with 114 each and Clinton County with 113.
Final county harvests by region (with 2021 figures in parentheses) are:
Northwest – 502 (451): Warren, 88 (87); Jefferson, 81 (72); Clarion, 80 (60); Venango, 79 (81); Crawford, 52 (38); Forest, 51 (44); Butler, 40 (43); Erie, 20 (13); and Mercer, 11 (8).
Southwest –253 (247): Somerset, 64 (58); Armstrong, 50 (58); Cambria, 44 (19); Fayette, 34 (49); Indiana, 31 (12); Westmoreland, 25 (41); Greene, 3 (3); and Allegheny, 2 (7).
Northcentral – 1,028 (1,220): Tioga, 187 (166); Lycoming, 152 (212); Centre, 122 (118); Potter, 119 (180); Clearfield, 114 (94); Clinton, 113 (156); Elk, 85 (80); McKean, 52 (107); Cameron, 52 (68); and Union, 32 (39).
Southcentral – 355 (464): Huntingdon, 81 (115); Bedford, 71 (82); Mifflin, 34 (55); Blair, 33 (39); Fulton, 31 (47); Perry, 29 (42); Juniata, 26 (36); Franklin, 18 (17); Snyder, 15 (12); Cumberland 8 (8); Adams, 7 (10); and York, 2 (1).
Northeast – 901 (1,121): Bradford, 126 (136); Luzerne, 126 (111); Monroe, 114 (95); Pike, 84 (167); Sullivan, 84 (127); Wayne, 81 (120); Carbon, 78 (103); Lackawanna, 51 (62); Wyoming, 50 (66); Susquehanna, 47 (77); Columbia, 46 (36); Northumberland, 10 (16); and Montour, 4 (5).
Southeast – 131 (156): Schuylkill, 65 (61); Dauphin, 27 (54); Lebanon, 14 (8); Northampton, 12 (13); Berks, 11 (12); and Lehigh, 2 (6).
The final bear harvests by Wildlife Management Unit (with final 2021 figures in parentheses) were: WMU 1A, 26 (26); WMU 1B, 115 (96); WMU 2A, 13 (5); WMU 2B, 4 (10); WMU 2C, 159 (192); WMU 2D, 202 (206); WMU 2E, 85 (45); WMU 2F, 258 (245); WMU 2G, 425 (519); WMU 2H, 101 (90); WMU 3A, 174 (238); WMU 3B, 292 (403); WMU 3C, 165 (218); WMU 3D, 344 (426); WMU 4A, 114 (173); WMU 4B, 76 (121); WMU 4C, 190 (224); WMU 4D, 291 (300); WMU 4E, 109 (97); WMU 5A, 17 (14); WMU 5B, 2 (1); and WMU 5C, 8 (10).
Given all those numbers, it’s no wonder Pennsylvania black bear hunting is as popular as it is. In 2022, 213,639 people – 203,933 Pennsylvania residents and 9,717 nonresidents – bought a bear license. That was the third-most ever.
Carrollo said the odds of that interest going away anytime soon are slim, certainly slimmer than the chance of harvesting a bear.
“Our season structure allows hunters to pursue black bears across multiple months, using multiple tools, when opportunity best matches up with their availability,” Carrollo said. “That’s good for them and good for helping us reach our management objectives.”
Requirements for hunters
Hunters who want to pursue bears in Pennsylvania need a general hunting license or mentored hunting permit, as well as a bear license.
Hunting licenses can be purchased online at https://huntfish.pa.gov or from issuing agents located in every county. A list of agents is available at www.pgc.pa.gov under the “Hunt/Trap” tab. Licenses purchased online cannot be used until they are received through the mail because bear licenses contain harvest ear tags.
Bear hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined at all times during the four-day general firearms season, or when participating in the muzzleloader or special firearms bear seasons. The orange must be visible from 360 degrees.
Hunters who harvest a bear must complete the harvest tag and attach it to the bear’s ear before moving it, then check the bear as required. Bear check stations are open at certain locations and on certain days across the various bear seasons. Details can be found in the 2023-24 Hunting & Trapping Digest that all hunters get when buying their license.
When check stations aren’t open, hunters can call the Game Commission’s Centralized Dispatch Center at either 1-833-PGC-HUNT (1-833-742-4868) or 1-833-PGC-WILD (1-833-742-9453) to make check-in arrangements.
To prepare for those checks, hunters who take a bear should place a 3- to 4-inch stick into the bear’s mouth before rigor mortis or freezing temperatures set in, so that a tooth can be removed for aging.
Finally, hunters should also go into the woods with a plan for how to get a bear back out. Even smaller bears can be difficult for one person to handle.
MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau – 717-705-6541