Pennsylvania isn’t offering a bear hunting season in 2022. As was the case last year, it’s essentially offering three.
Properly licensed hunters can take black bears in multiple ways – with bows, muzzleloaders and, in cases, even rifles – in what can be considered the early bear season.
That includes the archery bear season, which runs from Sept. 17 to Nov. 25 in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2B, 5C and 5D, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 18 in WMU 5B, and statewide from Oct. 15 to Nov. 5. It also includes the muzzleloader and special firearms seasons. Muzzleloader hunters can take a bear from Oct. 15 to 22, while juniors, seniors and some other special categories of hunters – including mentored hunters ages 16 and under, active-duty military and certain disabled persons’ permit holders – can harvest a bear with a firearm from Oct. 20 to 22.
The second component of Pennsylvania bear hunting is the regular statewide bear season. It runs from Nov. 19 to 22, including the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Finally, there’s the extended bear season, which allows hunters with a license for bears to take one during all of part or the firearms deer season. The extended season runs from Nov. 26 to Dec. 3 in WMUs 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A, including the Saturday and Sunday that mark the first two days of deer season, and from Nov. 26 to Dec. 10 in WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, which includes the entirety of deer season.
Hunters can take only one bear during the license year. But added together, those seasons provide a lot of opportunity.
It’s no wonder then that bear hunting license sales are so strong. A total of 215,219 people bought a bear license in 2021; that was not far off 2020’s record sales of 220,471. In both years, only white-tailed deer put more hunters in the woods.
“Pennsylvania continues to offer tremendous bear hunting,” said Emily Carrollo, the Game Commission’s black bear biologist. “We’ve got lots of bears, and lots of big ones, and hunters can pick and choose when and how they want to pursue them. If there’s ever been a great time to be a Pennsylvania bear hunter, this is it, right now.”
The numbers prove that. Hunters harvested 3,659 bears in 2021. That’s the state’s fifth-best harvest ever.
Those bears came from across the seasons.
The archery bear season produced 672 bears, while the muzzleloader and special firearms seasons chipped in 536. Combined, those 1,208 bears amounted to about one-third of the total 2021 harvest.
The regular bear season, meanwhile – true to form – contributed the biggest portion of the harvest. Hunters then got 1,314 bears across four days. That was the second third of the total harvest.
The extended season accounted for the final third of the harvest, producing 1,127 bears.
“The extended bear season adds excitement for hunters, allowing them to seek deer and bears at the same time, doubling their chances of placing their tag on an incredible trophy,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “As the numbers show, hunters are finding much success, too, in this and other bear seasons, and statewide bear hunting is about to kick off once again.
In 2021, hunters harvested at least one bear in 59 of the state’s 67 counties and in 22 of its 23 WMUs.
None of that is to say every bear hunter who hits the woods will fill their tag. Success rates for bear hunters still hover around 3% or less.
But, Carrollo said, hunters who find the food sources bears are keying on at various times throughout the fall, and hunt those spots hard, always have a chance. And not just in one season, but several.