Tactics and Gear for a Successful Bear Hunting Season
As Thanksgiving approaches so does bear hunting season in Pennsylvania. Bear season attracts approximately 170,000 hunters annually with the hopes of harvesting one of Pennsylvania’s largest game animals. Success is limited to only around 3,000-4,000 harvested statewide in any giving year. Although, you can increase your chances of tagging out this bear hunting season by being well prepared with the right tactics and gear.
Guide to Pennsylvania’s Bear Hunting Season
Historically, bear hunting season in Pennsylvania was a 3-day firearms season. In recent years the season has been expanded to include a Saturday, making the season Saturday, Monday-Wednesday of Thanksgiving week. In addition, the last few years have seen other opportunities to harvest a bear in Pennsylvania. A new archery-only season, as well as extended firearm seasons in certain wildlife management units (WMU), has been added in response to a growing bear population. All of which means plenty of bear hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania.
2018 Bear Season Dates and General Regulations
Each bear hunter must have a regular Pennsylvania hunting license as well as an additional bear tag. Only one bear may be harvested per licensed hunter during the year. Hunters are required to wear 250-square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back combined during the firearms season. A harvested bear must be tagged immediately with a properly filled out bear tag attached to the ear. In addition, within 24-hours each hunter who has harvested a bear must take the animal to a bear check station. Finally, it is unlawful to kill a bear in a den or hunt over scents, lures or bait for bear.
- Statewide regular firearms season: November 17-21.
- Extended season for WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D: November 26-December 8.
- Extended season for WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D: November 26-December 1.
- Extended season for WMUs 1B, 2C, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, 4E and 5A: November 28-December 1.
Best Places to Bear Hunt in Pennsylvania
Bears were harvested in 57 counties and 22 of the 23 WMUs in 2017. However, there are certain areas of Pennsylvania that are perennial top producers.
Bears prefer mature, contiguous forested areas making the northcentral counties in the state your best choice to head afield during bear hunting season. Narrowing it down, Lycoming County in northcentral Pennsylvania stands atop each year as the top producing county. It has large tracts of public forestlands providing ample habitat and plenty of areas to hunt. The surrounding counties of Potter, Clinton and Tioga are also some of the best places for bear hunting in the state. Additionally, the northeast part of the state in the Pocono region, such as Luzerne, Pike and Wayne counties, account for substantial harvests as well as some of the largest bears each year.
The top five counties for the 2017 bear hunting season in Pennsylvania by number of bears harvested were:
- Lycoming County – 252
- Pike County – 193
- Potter County – 161
- Sullivan & Wayne Counties (tie) – 156
- Clinton County – 153
With an expanding bear population, counties in the southern part of the state are increasingly becoming productive. Dauphin and Schuylkill counties have areas to hunt and experience less hunting pressure than more popular northern counties. These two counties accounted for a total of 96 bears harvested in 2017. Other southern counties such as Cumberland, Lebanon, and Berks also offer bear hunting opportunities, but you will have your work cut out for you.
You can track this year’s harvest as it happens using the PGC’s Bear Harvest – 2018 web app. It provides a county by county break down of harvest information in several interactive charts.
3 Bear Hunting Tactics That Work in Pennsylvania
Hunters in Pennsylvania have three tactics for hunting bears. The first tactic, which is employed by many hunting camps in the northern tier of the state is driving for bear. Two other tactics include stand hunting and the less common modified spot and stalk hunting tactic for bear hunting.
Video: Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists record data from a hunter’s black bear at a bear check station near Harrisburg.
Bear Hunting Tactic #1 – Driving for Bears
One of the more common ways to hunt bears in Pennsylvania is by putting on a drive. The objective is to drive a bear from thick cover and have either one of the drivers or one of the standers be able to take a shot.
Dense mountain laurel ridges and thick underbrush hillsides are the best places for bear drives. Two factors contribute to a successful bear drive. First, standers have to be positioned in areas where you expect a bear to escape to. This could be in front of the drivers or to the sides. It all depends on terrain and wind direction and has to be planned for before the drive starts. Second, go slow and silent. Many bear drivers will yell and shout in hopes to spook up a bear. Although this sometimes works, often bears elude well before ever being seen. Instead, be more deliberate and quieter when driving and you will be more likely to get a shot.
Bear Hunting Tactic #2 – Stand Hunting for Bears
Hunting bears in Pennsylvania from a stand can be challenging. To be successful, scouting plays a big factor. One approach is to use trail cameras leading up to the season in order to try to locate and pattern bears in an area. Scouting with trail cameras helps you to narrow down areas that are consistently holding bears.
Two important bear hunting tips for stand hunters are to hunt all day and hunt around food sources. With a lot of hunters driving for bear throughout the day, you need to be in your stand in case one is pushed to you. Also, bears are still trying to pack on as much weight as they can before winter sets in so areas rich in available food will be magnets for bears. Finally, consider the appropriate tree stand set if you are planning to stand hunt during bear hunting season.
Hunting Tactic #3 – Modified Spot and Stalk
The modified spot and stalk bear hunting tactic is a lesser deployed tactic but effective in certain circumstances. Similar to a spot and stalk technique, this approach is basically sneaking around undetected in hopes of running into an unsuspecting bear. This tactic works well when the weather turns ugly. On days where it rains or is windy, you can sneak quietly and cover a lot of ground around food sources looking for feeding bears. Snow on the ground is also another time when this tactic works well. Snow allows you to pick up on fresh tracks and sneak within range.
Must-Have Bear Hunting Gear List
There are a lot of similarities between deer hunting and bear hunting gear. Good quality hunting clothing, waterproof raingear, orange hat and vest, flashlight and knife are common gear items that come to mind. However, these items should be part of every bear hunting gear list.
- Large Caliber Rifle – Make sure your rifle is able to knock down a big bear if the chance presents itself. At minimum a .270 caliber but to be safe stay in the .30-06 and above range.
- Binoculars – A quality pair of binoculars that are weatherproof and good in low light conditions. These are invaluable when stand hunting or sneak hunting in bear hunting season.
- Shooting Stick – A stable platform goes a long way when you spot a bear feeding at a distance. Choose one that is lightweight but also sturdy enough to hold a large caliber rifle steady.
- Communication and Navigation – Both will be needed if you are driving for bear or spot and stalk hunting. You will need a radio to communicate with other drivers and standers and a GPS to help navigate the drive and plan your stalk.
- Waterproof and Comfortable Hunting Boots – Hunting boots for bear hunting should be chosen based on your planned tactic. Go with insulated boots for stand hunting and uninsulated for driving and stalking.
- Bear Sized Hunting Pack – Expect the weather to be harsh, especially in the northern tier. A large hunting pack can hold plenty of extra clothing for stand hunters.
- 550 Paracord – Paracord comes in handy for after the kill. You don’t want to drag a bear out of the woods especially if you are planning to have it mounted in some way. Having several feet of 550 paracord allows you to tie off the feet and head to a downed tree and carry it out undamaged.
The four days of bear hunting season the week of Thanksgiving are some of the most looked forward to days of the hunting season for many Pennsylvanians. The statewide bear hunting season in Pennsylvania proves challenging year after year with only a lucky few getting a chance to harvest a black bear in the state. Use these bear hunting tips and this guide to be better prepared, and hopefully successful, this year.