Grin and bear it: Centre County hunters have successful trips

Bellefonte hunter Keith Hamilton with his 138-pound bear. Hamilton shot it in Curtin Township on the opening day of bear season.
Bellefonte hunter Keith Hamilton with his 138-pound bear. Hamilton shot it in Curtin Township on the opening day of bear season. Photo for the CDT

For many Pennsylvania hunters, harvesting a black bear in Penn’s Woods is a lifetime achievement that might only be hoped for.

For Julian resident Terra Haines, it is just another day in the woods.

Haines, who works at Mount Nittany Medical Center, has been hunting since she was a teenager. She shot her first buck, a five-point, in 2011.

She already has two archery-killed does under her belt this fall. However, on the opening day of bear season, she was carrying a rifle afield with a group of 18 men — most local Centre County hunters.

Hunting in southern Cameron County, Haines was a watcher during the group’s second drive of the day. They were pushing a large area of wooded land within the Elk State Forest.

“I was watching uphill in a wooded hollow when the bear started running right towards me,” Haines described. “It was quite a different experience than with my first bear, which was running away.”

She fired three shots from her 7 mm magnum and dropped the bruin. At the Pennsylvania Game Commission check station in Quehanna, Haines learned that her bear weighed 165 pounds — 10 pounds heavier than her first bear.

“It is odd, but this bear dropped almost the same place as my 2013 bear,” Haines added. “Just 20 minutes later, one of our drivers shot another bear as it was attempting to run back through the drivers.”

Earlier on the opening morning, another Centre County hunter — Keith Hamilton, of Bellefonte — also harvested a bear, and it was also his second bruin. He was happy to share the day with his son and grandson — both also named Keith.

“Our group of 25 hunters was driving a thick patch of mountain laurel in the Sproul State Forest, near Orviston in Curtin Township, when I saw the bear run right through a stream,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton’s .270 did its job and he dropped the bear at approximately 50 yards.

As darkness fell on the opening day, Hamilton’s 138-pound bear was only the second Centre County bear to be checked at Quehanna. Additional opening-day bears were checked that evening and on Sunday. Since 12 Centre County bears were checked at the Huntingdon check station and more at Laurelton, the total county bears shot the opening day amounted to 48, as compared to 60 last year.

According to preliminary figures released by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1,508 black bears were harvested from 53 counties during the first day of Pennsylvania’s statewide bear season. The total fell 115 below last year’s opening day tally.

While a number of check stations recorded fewer bears than during the past couple of seasons, the Huntingdon check station — in the PGC’s Southcentral Region — processed its second highest number of opening-day bears since 2005.

Commission biologist Justin Vreeland speculated on the possible reasons for the higher-than-average harvest.

“The warm fall weather tends to keep bears active longer and not denning early,” Vreeland commented. “On the other hand, our acorn crop here in the southcentral counties was poor, so the hunters need to go after the bears in farm country in the valleys where the bears are feeding on corn and soybeans. If the hunters do that, we will have a good harvest.”

Continuing Pennsylvania’s tradition of large bears, 10 bears with estimated live weights over 590 pounds were harvested on the opening day. The largest of those bears — a male estimated at 713 pounds — was taken in neighboring Blair County at 7:10 a.m., by Richard A. Watt, of Gallitzin. According to Vreeland, Watt’s bear had been previously trapped, tagged and relocated as a “nuisance bear” way back in 2005. Oddly enough, the trapping site was in the general vicinity of where the bear was harvested.

A local hunter, Glenn L. Hannah of Warriors Mark, also bagged a large bear on the opening Saturday. Hannah shot his 614-pound male bruin in Logan Township, Huntingdon County.

Hunters added 523 bears to the total on November 23, the second day of the season. The heaviest second-day bear was another 713-pounder. This boar was taken in Mifflin County on Monday morning, by Gregory A. Wilson, of Lewistown, and its weight tied that of Watt’s Blair County bear.

An additional 223 bears were harvested on the third day of the season, according to the most recent data available. This raised the preliminary statewide bear season harvest to 2,487 — an increase of 198 — as compared to the 2,289 bears taken during the first three days of the 2014 season. Bear hunters are on target to produce another top-ten record bear harvest.

Centre County is also producing more bears than it did last season. The county total through the first three days of the season was 104 bears, as compared to 84 at this point last season. Centre County is currently in sixth place, behind Lycoming, Clinton, Tioga, Warren and Pike counties.

The last segment of firearm bear season runs December 2-5 in Wildlife Management Unit 4D, which includes southern Centre County. In WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, it ends December 12. Archery and other early bear season harvest numbers are still being entered into the Game Commission’s database, and are not available at this time.

Good luck to all the deer hunters on Monday.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is chairman of the board for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com