Pennsylvania’s black bear hunters did well despite the cold, windy weather during much of the four-day rifle season.
The last day of the extended season occurred Saturday. Based on preliminary data, 2016 is guaranteed to be another top-10 bear harvest. As of this writing, 2,579 bears have been shot. A top-five finish is possible when the extended rifle, archery and muzzleloader seasons are tallied. Last fall’s four-day total of 2,693 bears — 114 fewer than this year — made 2015 the third-highest harvest on record.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission usually releases complete archery, muzzleloader and extended season harvest numbers in late December or January.
The season was short but exciting for Centre County resident Daryl Walk, of rural Port Matilda. Early on the afternoon of opening day, Walk shot a rare, 237-pound cinnamon bear. The bear had a beautiful, thick coat of fur, and Walk plans to have a rug made out of the hide. Walk was hunting with friends in the Moshannon State Forest in Rush Township.
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In 2013, Matt Reed, of Tyrone, also shot a cinnamon bear in Rush Township. Cinnamon coloration is a genetic trait, so it was no accident that Walk’s bear showed up in the same general area.
Although cinnamon-phase black bears are more common in some western states, they are quite rare in Pennsylvania — about 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the population. Research indicates that, like brown and blue eyes in humans, the gene for black fur is dominant over cinnamon. And also like human eye color, there are different shades of “cinnamon,” leading bear researchers to believe that bear fur color is controlled by more than one gene pair.
“I’ve only checked two cinnamon bears in my 14-year career of checking bears, and they both came from Centre County, Rush Township,” PGC wildlife biologist Justin Vreeland commented.
According to commission bear biologist Mark Ternent, four to six cinnamon bears show up in each fall’s harvest. Where they are shot is not random.
“They show up more often in Centre and Clinton counties, and also in the Pine Creek drainage in Lycoming County,” Ternent said.
Although that data is not yet complete, it appears that at least four cinnamon-phase black bears were harvested this fall. One was checked at the Chapman Fire Hall in Clinton County. Walk’s Centre County bear was checked at Quehanna in Clearfield County, and two were processed at the new check station in Falls Creek at the Jefferson/Clearfield County line. According to Land Management Group Supervisor Jesse Bish, the bears were both harvested in Clearfield County.
Pennsylvania bears average about 158 pounds, so Walk’s 237-pounder is a nice bear. Although dozens of other bears have topped Walk’s this season, he likely has the heaviest cinnamon-colored bear.
The heaviest rifle-season bear — a black male estimated at 700 pounds — was taken on that same Saturday in Monroe County by Chad Nauman, of Cresco.
Other large bears harvested on opening day of the statewide rifle season include a 642-pound male shot in Wayne County by Randy Elders, of Greentown; a 622-pound male taken in Pike County by Joseph M. Skutches Jr., from Nazareth; and a 621-pound male taken in Forest County by Ronald Reitlinger, of Cranberry Township.
Four of the heaviest bruins were taken on Nov. 21, the second day of the season. Ryan Grieb, of Leesport, shot a 666-pound male in Clinton County, and Kerry Lauer, of Berwick, harvested a 621-pounder in Columbia County. The other two huge second-day bears came from Potter County — a 662-pounder taken by Grant Ruhl, from Lebanon, and a 621-pounder shot by Andrew Tiffany, of Athens.
Gregory Fuller, from Williamsport, harvested a 649-pound male in Lycoming County on Nov. 22 — the third day of the season. On the afternoon of Nov. 23, Donald Boandl, of Lake Ariel, harvested a 676-pound male in Dreher Township, Wayne County. It is the second-heaviest bear taken during the statewide season.
The heaviest two bears recorded so far this fall are not included in the preceding list. A 740-pounder was harvested in Indiana County during one of the early seasons, and a 722-pound bruin was shot in Pike County during the extended rifle season. Details about these bears have not yet been released by the commission.
Hunters shot 1,297 bears on opening day, 596 on the second day, 415 on the third day and 271 bears were added on the last day of the statewide rifle season. At least 215 bruins were taken during archery and muzzleloader seasons, although that total is not yet official. As of this writing, 677 bears had been reported for the extended season. This number is expected to grow after the final day of the season is added to the totals.
Bears have been harvested in 56 different counties thus far. With 112 bruins, Centre County is again ranked in the top 10 — at No. 8. The four-day rifle season produced 78 Centre County bears, and 35 more came from the combined early and late seasons. Lycoming County is in the lead with 240. To round out the top five, hunters harvested 220 in Clinton County, 169 in Tioga, 149 in Potter and 127 in Warren County.
“It looks like the harvest will be large, but average. With high license sales, a population of about 20,000 bears and the big acorn crop, I honestly expected a larger harvest,” Ternent commented. “The only thing that I can attribute the lower-than-expected harvest to would be the storm front that moved in Saturday and made hunting difficult through Monday of the statewide rifle season.”
New this year
You can view the most recent statistics including by county, township and heaviest bear at www.pgc.pa.gov. Click on “Bear Check Stations,” under the “Quick Clicks” section of the agency’s homepage. By Monday evening, the unofficial totals should be posted.
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.
Pennsylvania bear harvest by county