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Big-game opportunities

Record bruin harvest decade bodes well for Pa. season starting Monday. Biggest bears usually found in NEPA.

The heaviest bears in the state are usually taken in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and this year a good place to locate big bruins is the Earth Conservancy’s public access lands in and around Newport Township.

Submitted photos

Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Gerald Kapral has a suspicion there’s something big roaming the stripping areas in Newport Township.

And if it is going to be seen, it will likely happen on Monday – the opening day of the statewide bear season.

Kapral said bear complaints in Newport Township were the highest he’s ever had. He trapped three bears out of the area this summer, but there are plenty more left.

And some might be enormous.

“I would say that area is easily harboring several bears in the 400-to-500 pound range,” Kapral said. “Based on sightings from reliable sources and the local police, there are some really big bears there.”

The game commission estimates the state’s bear population to be between 14,000 and 15,000. Last year hunters took 2,360 bears, despite adverse weather on the first day.

The 2007 bear harvest compares with 3,122 in 2006, and 4,164 in 2005, the state’s best bear kill. Already in this decade, which still is not completed, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the Game Commission began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.

“Our black bear population is a remarkable resource,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. “Every year since 2000, more than 100,000 hunters have headed afield in pursuit of bears, with harvests exceeding 3,000 bears most years, yet many local bear populations across the state have remained stable or increased. It’s a good time to be a bear hunter.”

Kapral is hoping that bear hunters spend some time on the Earth Conservancy’s public access lands in and around Newport Township to help lessen the number of complaints next year. He attributes the high number of complaints to a healthy bear population and easy access to food – i.e. garbage cans and Dumpsters.

The regular bear season runs from Nov. 24 to 26, but the Newport Township area is open for the extended bear season, which runs from Dec. 1–6 (in Wildlife Management Unit 3C and parts of 3B, 4E and 2G; and Dec. 3-6, in all of WMUs 4C, 4D and 4E.). The extra time gives hunters an opportunity to harvest bears while they are in the woods for deer season.

“I’m happy for that,” Kapral said. “This area generated the bulk of my bear complaints, and hunting is the best way to address the matter.”

Last year a heavy, wet snowfall hampered hunter’s efforts on the first day and this season could pose similar problems.

The recent cold spell could force bears into hibernation before opening day, and Kapral said his complaints dropped off once the temperatures plummeted.

“There are still going to be some bears out there, and hunters will have to put on drives to get them moving,” he said.

Ternent predicted hunters should take 3,500 bears this season if good weather prevails, and of those approximately 30 will take a bear weighing 500 pounds or more.

Since 1992, six bears with an estimated live weight of 800 pounds or more have been taken in Pennsylvania. The possibility of another 800-pounder being taken by a hunter is always in play when Pennsylvania’s bear season opens, and the heaviest bears taken typically come from the state’s Northeast.

Kapral said the largest bear he has ever seen was a 750-pound male in Monroe County.

“It was denning under a cabin and we had to move it,” he said. “After we tranquilized it, we used a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood as a stretcher to move it. That bear covered the entire sheet.”

Kapral said the size of Pennsylvania’s bears still impresses him, and he’s hoping to see a few more big ones harvested by hunters this season.

“It’s amazing how something that big can be so docile. They’re nothing but muscle, teeth and claws, and you can’t help but admire something like that,” Kapral said.

Bear season facts

• A bear license is required to participate in any bear season.

• Only one bear may be harvested per license year from all seasons combined.

• A hunter who harvests a bear must complete all information on his or her bear harvest tag and attach it to the ear of the animal immediately after harvest and before the carcass is moved. In addition, within 24 hours, hunters who kill a bear must take it, along with their general hunting and bear licenses, to a Game Commission check station for examination. Bear check stations are maintained at the agency’s six regional offices and at other locations listed on page 41 in the 2008-09 Hunting and Trapping Digest.

• Once a hunter has used his or her bear harvest tag, it is unlawful to possess it in the field. Also, hunters are reminded to remove old licenses from their holder before placing a new one in it. If you keep an old license in the holder, you might accidentally use it to tag big game and unintentionally violate the law.

• It is unlawful to kill a bear in a den; use a radio to locate a bear that has a radio transmitter attached to it; hunt in areas where artificial or natural bait, hay, grain, fruit, nuts, salt, chemicals, minerals, including residue or other foods are used, or have been used, as an enticement to lure wildlife within the past 30 days; use scents or lures; pursue bears with dogs; or to hunt bears in a party of more than 25 persons.

• During the regular and extended bear seasons, hunters are required to wear at all times 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back combined, visible 360 degrees, while hunting in either of the black bear firearms seasons. In WMUs where the archery bear season and fall wild turkey season run concurrently, bowhunters when moving are required to wear a hat containing 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange. The hat may be removed when the hunter is stationary or on stand. Those WMUs affected by this requirement are 2D, 2G, 3A and 4D.

• Bears may be hunted with: manually operated center-fire rifles, handguns and shotguns with an all-lead bullet or ball, or a bullet designed to expand on impact – buckshot is illegal; muzzle-loading long guns 44-caliber or larger; long, recurve or compound bows or crossbows with broadheads of cutting-edge design. Crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds and cannot exceed 200 pounds.

• It is unlawful to intentionally lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemicals, salt or other minerals that might cause bears to congregate or habituate in an area.

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