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Bear (courtesy

Harrisburg, PA -( It was a large harvest, and a heavy one. Pennsylvania hunters harvested a total of 3,748 bears in 2015, the third-highest tally in state history, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported today. And a whopping 68 of those bears topped the 500-pound mark. The harvest total represents an increase compared to 2014, when . . .

3,371 bears were taken.

With 2015 total now official, the eight largest bear harvests all have occurred in the past decade. The all-time high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested. Hunters harvested 4,164 in 2005 and 3,510 bears in 2013.

Hunters in 2015 harvested bears in 57 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, an increase compared to 2014, when bears were taken in 56 counties. Bears were taken in 20 of the state’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), and each of the Game Commission’s six regions saw a larger harvest in 2015 compared to the previous year.

The 68 bears harvested weighing 500 pounds or more represents a sharp increase from 2014, when 41 bears taken by hunters reached or exceeded the 500-pound mark.

And 18 bears in the 2015 harvest topped 600 pounds.

Two bears tied for heaviest in the harvest, each weighing an estimated 713 pounds. The first was taken on the Nov. 21 statewide opener in Blair Township, Blair County, by Richard A. Watt, of Gallitzin, Pa. The second was taken Nov. 23 in Granville Township, Mifflin County, by Gregory A. Wilson, of Lewistown.

Lycoming County, perennially among the top counties for bear harvests again led the way with 312 harvests in 2014, up from 286 the previous year. Among other top counties for bear harvests in 2015 were: Clinton, 265 (179 in 2014); Tioga 196 (275); Pike 180 (111); and Centre, 162 (117).

The four-day general season again set the pace for the overall harvest, with 2,724 bears being taken during that season. But the extended seasons and the archery bear season also contributed to the totals.

Statewide, 803 bears were harvested in extended seasons while 209 were taken during the archery bear season.

Pike County claimed the highest harvest in extended seasons, with 56 bears taken after the close of the general statewide bear season. Other top counties, and their harvest totals during the extended seasons, were: Wayne, 52; Tioga, 51; Lycoming, 50; Luzerne, 49; and Bradford, 46.

The Game Commission handled and tagged more than 900 bears statewide in Pennsylvania last year, and the percentage of those bears harvested by hunters suggests the state’s bear population grew between 2014 and 2015, said agency bear biologist Mark Ternent.

The state’s bear population had held stable at about 18,000 from 2008 to 2014.

But in 2014, harsh weather greeted bear hunters in much of the state during the general bear season opener, and this fact likely contributes to the bear population bumping to an estimated 20,000 animals, Ternent said. The last time the population bumped after several years of a stable population trend, it also did so after a year after harsh weather during bear season, Ternent said.

A record number of bear licenses – 175,314 – were sold in 2015, as well, continuing a trend of an increasing number of bear hunters.

Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the growing interest in bear hunting isn’t surprising given the recent string of top harvests, and the future for bear hunting looks as bright as ever.

“It might sound like a broken record, but, truly, there has never been a better time to hunt bears in Pennsylvania,” Hough said. “Each year, another top harvest is added to the record books, and the largest one yet very possibly might be around the corner.”

What a decade for bear hunting

The 2015 Pennsylvania bear harvest, the third-largest in state history, joined other recent seasons near the top of the record books. With the totals now official, the eight of the top 10 harvests all have occurred in the last decade. Here’s a look:

Top Pennsylvania bear harvests:

  1. 4,350 – 2011
  2. 4,164 – 2005
  3. 3,748 – 2015
  4. 3,623 – 2012
  5. 3,512 – 2009
  6. 3,510 – 2013
  7. 3,458 – 2008
  8. 3,366 – 2014

About Pennsylvania Game Commission:

For more than 100 years, the Game Commission has managed the Commonwealth’s wildlife resources for all Pennsylvanians. With the help of more than 700 full-time employees and thousands of part-timers and volunteers, the agency provides a host of benefits to wildlife, state residents and visitors.

For more information, visit:

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  1. A black bear topping 700 lbs? He must have lived at Krispy Kreme. The biggest one I’ve seen in the wilds would be, maybe, 200 lbs?

        • I have had bear that wasn’t very good and then I have had bear that was really good. I imagine it is a lot like venison: if the bear eats good food and the hunter cools the meat right away, it tastes great.

        • I was about to ask the same question as everyone has told me down through the years the meat is just about inedible. I also remember reading “Two Diana’s in Alaska” written in 1900 by probably the most famous woman hunter that ever lived, Agnes Herbert, and she ate just about everything she shot except bear which she said she could not cook in any way that made the meat edible. Maybe she did not have the right recipe but I doubt it.

        • Jlp,
          I’ve been told by every outfitter I’ve talked with that the coastal bears in Alaska are inedible because they eat rotting fish. That fish and game is OK with harvesting a bruin for the skin and skull.
          Now the Bears here in Oregon are very tasty. In eastern Oregon during the fall their diet is heavy with things like huckleberries. They, like wild pigs, may have worms. It is very important to cook it properly so as not to end up with something like trichinosis.
          I’ve eaten a couple hundred pounds of bear meat in my life, and never gotten the bug.

        • I had to wait to stop laughing at Jonathan’s reply.
          Last one was a .44 mag handgun.
          One before that was a .300 win mag.

        • You can take down Black Bears with just about reasonable deer gun, especially at woods hunting ranges. They are much smaller and less dangerous that Brown or Grizzly. Many black bears have been taken with the 30-30 for example.

        • Contrary to myth you do not need a big caliber to hunt big game. Agnes Herbert in 1900 killed Alaska’s big bears which make most Black Bears look like midgets with nothing more than a 6.5 Manlicher with a 160 grain full metal jacketed bullet at 2,300 fps. The caliber had tremendous penetration due to the bullets diameter being small compared to its length and it had the advantage of super accuracy and light recoil. In other words its shot placement and penetration that kills not bullet diameter. Agnes Herbert hunted the Caucuses and Africa as well and used both a .450 double barrel elephant rifle and her 6.5 and she said the only difference between the elephant .450 and her 6.5 was the blood trail as if you wounded an animal with the .450 it left a bigger blood trail but it did not kill any better than her 6.5 and considering the fact that she killed more game than most men kill to day in ten lifetimes I think she knew what she was talking about.

          Agnes Herbert came to the conclusion in 1900 that most gun writers of the day did not know what the hell they were talking about. Sound familiar, it should. She was one of the first people to teach people to shoot with both eyes open rather than with one eye closed as was advocated by traditional gun writers of the time.

          For further reading read her readily available book, (still in print 116 years later) “Two Diana’s in Alaska” Its a real classic. Is it not amazing the Moronic gun writers of today still do not know what she knew 116 years ago.

        • @TommyGNR, Tom in Oregon, jlp: so hypothetically, one could hunt them with an SKS/AK clone?

          Edit: @jlp: I’ll add the book to my reading list.

        • Considering the fact that thousands and thousands of elephants are being illegally gunned down by poachers in Africa as we speak with nothing more than military fmj bullets out of an AK 47 the answer to your question has been answered with the reality of pouching in todays world.

    • From everything I have read he lived in some inaccessible forests. Western PA area. Believe it or not PA has lots of woodlands. I love my home state except for Philly area.

    • A black bear topping 700 lbs? He must have lived at Krispy Kreme.
      Are we talking about bears or Krispy Kreme the politician?

    • To control the population. Without these hunters, the bear population would be at an unsustainable level, leading to possible disease, malnutrition and unhealthy interaction with humans. At this point, hunting is essential to maintaining a healthy population of bear, deer, etc.

    • Why do anti hunting types always think it’s just about the kill and that’s it? The kill is only a part of the process not the end game. Not wrong and icky just because you don’t have the stomach to personally harvest game yourself and would rather pay someone to do it to other animals for you.
      Unless you’re a vegitarian/vegan your moral superiority is misguided and rather hypocritical.

      Also if you actually comprehend anything in the article the bear hunt is obviously somewhat important to bear population control.

    • Well, if you put back the well over 26,000 bears (I’m not adding anything after a comma) from those 8 years in a state as populated as that what do you think would happen.

    • Heh, you must’ve never lived in New Jersey when they didn’t have bear seasons. I remember several black bears wandering into the Paramus area back when I briefly lived in NE NJ before moving to Pennsylvania. Black bears can turn into the equivalent of VERY large raccoons when they get used to being in the vicinity of civilization. Thankfully, they typically only want easy meals with no trouble, but they can be pretty destructive and potentially aggressive under the wrong circumstances.

      I’ve heard mixed reports on the quality of black bear meat, so I’ve never had much interest in hunting them. Plus, the thought of getting a few hundred pounds of bear out of the woods doesn’t sound too appealing to my lazy @ss. I think baiting is illegal for black bears in most, if not all, of PA, so that adds to the challenge. Whitetails are much more of an everyday nuisance, and they generally taste pretty good, so they get my attention.

    • I read a similar complaint years ago from England where someone was crying over the statistic that domestic cats killed MILLIONS of songbirds every year. The correct and appropriate reply to this caterwauling (yes, I went their) was, “What, pray tell, would you do with those extra millions of birds and their chicks next year and the year after?”

      • Different situations as bears are high in the food chain; songbirds are not obviously. Small birds have several other predators to fill the gap if cats were removed from the equation, bears do not.

        • It is sort of interesting that both my dogs and my daughter’s dogs successfully hunt birds that fly into their large fenced in area.

    • Yes, it would be so much kinder to allow them to reproduce uncontrolled. Then they could strip the woods of other wildlife and begin to predate on humans, before their uncontrolled populations were brought back onto balance by disease and starvation. Because there will be balance. The environment cannot sustain an infinite number of bears. Or indeed, any animal. Bears are an apex predator. The only animals that hunt bears are humans and other bears.

      So we choose to manage bears, just like all our other wildlife, in a humane fashion in America. And maintain an honest connection with where our food comes from, pack the freezer, and enjoy the great outdoors with family and friends.

      I quit Pheasant humting in the mid 70s, when they became more and more scarce in my area. I’d rather see a hen and her chicks crossing the road, or hear a cock crow in the evening, than shoot one. But they are tasty! And exciting to hunt. And just like all other wildlife, if we have an abundance. Damn right, I’ll be there on opening day.

      I had the privilege of serving as a game warden for a short time at Fort Knox. Beginning in the spring we would count the deer herd. We consulted with the biologists to determine how many deer the habitate would support. X number of permits were issued for Y length of season to harvest an estimated Z number of deer. And we came pretty close most of the time. This is how you maintain a sustainable, healthy wildlife population.

      Here emdeth the lesson.

      • I don’t believe Swarf is a troll, peta or otherwise. He just don’t do hunting. I’m cool with that. Leaves more game for me and mine.

        • ^^^This. I remember when (growing up in NE Ohio) I just didn’t understand hunting.

          I loved guns, but I had no desire to kill animals, and like many I wrongfully assumed that Hunting was all about the joy of killing. I could not have been more wrong, but there was no one to explain it to me back then.

  2. They said that they took 1/5 of the total bear population. Is that high or low? I don’t know much about wildlife management.

    • NJ publicly states that they target about 20% of the population each year to keep the census stable. The average Sow has 2 cubs every other year I believe which would average out at better than 40% annual growth rate, so culling 20% and assuming natural deaths, that would keep the population nearly stable.

      BTW, the major driver above and beyond census stability in NJ is the taking of tagged bears that are known to be trouble makers. I understand that NJ has nearly 1,000 bears that they tag and track due to known issues with interactions with humans. One of the major reasons a bear gets tagged is because they forage garbage sometimes because they get the taste after well meaning animal lovers start feeding them.

      This year NJ extended the hunt for the first time because not enough tagged bears were taken.

      BTW, bears from Northwest NJ taste great in chili, stews and roasts!

  3. Dang, black bear with my flintlock is very high on my list of must do’s. Can’t believe I’ve never hunted for black bear. 700lbs for a black bear is truly massive. I’ve never heard of that anywhere.

      • Jon, they also grow some monsters in North Carolina. IIRC, Jim Schocky and his daughter both bagged 600+ pounders last year.

        • That is correct.

          My county presently holds the world record confirmed weight black bear killed in the wild… 880 lbs. We had a 720-ish lb-er killed here a year or two ago.

          Over 500-600 lb is not all that uncommon here, really. Property I hunt had a 400 lb sow killed this year, and she was not considered a biggun’ nor the one those boys were really after.

          Deer huntin’ one day, I saw four in the low 200’s range (not far from where that 400 was killed a couple of weeks later) and that was considered “unremarkable” for that property.

          We get them in town once in a while, but considering the population here, they mostly stay out-of-sight.

        • Man, I need to do my homework. I’ve seen lots of bears hiking and mountain climbing. The black bears I saw rarely got over what looked like 300lbs. I am so out of time this year but I need to book a black bear hunt for next year.

        • “The black bears I saw rarely got over what looked like 300lbs. I am so out of time this year but I need to book a black bear hunt for next year.”

          To be clear, the Western NC bears in the mountains are not generally as big as the Eastern ones near the coast. 300 lbs would be big, in my opinion, for WNC. And, there’s not many at all in the ‘middle’ of the State.

          I went to the Smokey Mtn Park Visitor Center once and they had a stuffed one on display there that looked like a medium sized domestic dog. I nearly laughed.

          That place is not terribly far from where I grew up, and there are MUCH bigger bears in that area than THAT. I’ve seen tracks on the AT in Macon County (Bear Sanctuary area) that were bigger than my hand. I’ve seen ’em in the wild around there consistent in size to the 200+ lb range as well.

          I often wondered if that one on display (which may not be there anymore, this was about 20 years ago) was chosen small on purpose so as to not scare visitors to the Park. It’s a theory. It certainly was not representative of bears in the Park area.

          But, if you want a chance to see bigger ones, come East. The hunting seasons and regs are very different in the East and West parts of the state as well.

  4. I saw a photo of a 600 pound black bear that a hunter harvested … the first words that popped into my head to describe it was Jabba the Hut from the Star Wars movie franchise. Those are downright frightening when they get that large.

    And, as regular readers of this site know, I carry a large .44 Magnum revolver (with 8 inch barrel) in the woods for black bear defense. I have concerns that even that large revolver shooting full power loads will have trouble immediately stopping a motivated black bear that is that large.

  5. I do not have a problem with hunting, but using the word harvest is Newspeak. Face facts you are shooting and killing the dang critters. I never told Grandpa I was harvesting groundhogs. What am I supposed to do? Run over them with a combine? I shot the dang things with a rifle! I did not harvest rabbits, I hunted and blasted them with the shotgun.

    • How is harvest Newspeak? Harvesting is exactly what you’re doing. You seem to explain in your post exactly why it is a harvest, killing for parts of the animal such a pelts, meat, etc, instead of pest control, and yet you still don’t make the connection.

      • ‘Harvesting’ is of course Newspeak, the same way ‘beef processing plant’ is Newspeak for slaughterhouse. This doesn’t necessarily make the hunt ‘bad’, but the description is dishonest.

        Hunter’s ‘killed’ 3,748 bear in PA in 2015 is accurate – The rest is euphemism.

        See previous TTAG article: SAS Sniper Harvests ISIS Commander

        “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” ― George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

  6. How different from Florida!
    We had our first Bear season in decades this year.
    Total bear population estimated at 3,500
    320 was the official limit. So about 10 % of the population.
    They ended the season on the second day when 295 were killed.
    Officials said the fact they reached the limit so quickly means the bear population is larger than estimated.
    Animal rights protests started 6 months before the hunt started.
    They lost in court and the hunt went on as planned.
    Ted Nugent got a permit for a bow hunt, but did not get a bear.

  7. I nearly missed the “s” in “HunterS”…

    I thought that there was one PA madman who was hunting a little over TEN BEARS A DAY for A YEAR.

    • If that were the case, we would all know this man’s name, because that man would be a member of the Wutang Clan. You know, cause he aint nothing’ to fu()K wit’.

    • A couple years ago in PA, we had so many bears that the game wardens finally had to put up warning signs at two of the state parks near me. The signs explicitly said NOT to play dead with a black bear because they will start to eat you immediately. Funny how many people I saw open carrying for the first time while fishing.


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