Hunters bagging bears over 4 months leads to changes for public bear checking stations

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoors Columnist

The success hunters have had during expanded black bear seasons in recent years has led the Pennsylvania Game Commission to change the way it schedules public bear check stations.

In previous years, the agency provided check stations every day during the regular firearms season and then part of the extended season that overlapped with rifle deer season. On these days, the general public can watch the bears arrive. They also create opportunities for nonprofits including fire departments to hold fundraisers like food sales.

A black bear emerges March 5, 2022, from its den in Somerset County.

This year, bear check stations will only be open on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19-20, during the four-day season and then during certain days during the overlap rifle deer season. In some cases, like in Venango County, the check station will be open six days during the combined bear and deer season.

Trophy bear:Hunters are finding large bears across Pennsylvania

The additional seasons over a general rifle season began in 2019, and hunters found bears in these new timeframes. In the past year, about a third of bears, 36%, were taken during the general season. Those hunting during rifle deer season got 31% of the total bear harvest while archers took 18% of the bears and those in muzzleloader/special rifle season bagged 15% of the harvest.

“Because the harvest is much more spread out, we’re not seeing the huge influx of bears that need to be checked in the general season,” Game Commission bear biologist Emily Carrollo said.

Emily Carrollo, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's black bear manager, looks at a cub March 3, 2022. It was one of three cubs born to a mother bear this winter.

During the Monday and Tuesday of the general rifle bear season, she said the numbers of bears being turned in didn’t justify staffing check stations.

“Economically for Game Commission staff, timewise, finance wise, etc., it just made sense that we can field check the bears on Monday and Tuesday and have the check stations open on Saturday and Sunday which are the busier days.”

A handful of black bears were receive Nov. 21, 2021, at the New Centerville and Rural Volunteer Fire Co. fire hall check station for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Wardens, from left, Andy Harvey, Travis Anderson and Brian Witherite, talk about the hunting season which runs through Nov. 23, 2021, and reopens in some parts of the state on Saturday.

All harvested bears need to be checked by a Game Commission staff member. When the check stations aren’t open, hunters call the agency’s centralized dispatch center at 833-PGC-HUNT or 833-PGC-WILD for an officer to respond.

“The way the harvest is distributed is definitely affecting how we are using our manpower and our finances to make sure all our bears are checked and we do it as economically as possible,” she said.

2022 bear hunting seasons

  • Statewide archery season, Oct. 15 - Nov. 5
  • Muzzleloader season, Oct. 15 - 22
  • Special firearms for junior and senior license holders, active-duty military and certain disabled persons’ permit holders, Oct. 20 - 22
  • Regular firearms bear season, Nov. 19 - 22
  • Extended season overlapping with rifle deer hunting in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, Nov. 26 - Dec. 10
  • In WMUs, 1B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A,4B,4C,4D,4E and 5A, the season runs Nov. 26 - Dec. 3.

When you factor in there is also a special archery season in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D Sept. 17- Nov. 25 and WMU 5B Oct. 1- Nov. 18, hunters will be harvesting bruins over a four-month period this year.

Cubs rescued:Loggers discover cubs; PGC able to place bears with new mothers

Population management

The bear population, estimated by the PGC at about 15,700 across the state, is managed through the length of various hunting seasons. Carrollo said many female bears, especially pregnant sows, will start denning around mid-November before the general rifle season.

She said the earlier seasons are starting to remove more females from the population than in the past “because more are available to be harvested,” she said.

Bear research:PA Game Commission checks on hibernating bears, new cubs across the state

Carrollo predicts hunters this fall will find similar numbers of bears of the past two years. “Similar to or around 3,500 to 3,600 bears,” she estimated.

In January, she will have a report that evaluates the harvest and other research to see if the seasons need to be adjusted to manage the size of the bear population.

Close encounters:Pa.’s top two heaviest bears taken with shotgun, bow

Emily Carrollo, bear biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, checks the teeth of an old bear Dec. 4, 2021, at the Buchanan State Forest extended bear check station at Sideling Hill.

2021 bear hunt, by the numbers

Pennsylvania hunters bagged 3,659 bears in 2021, and the two largest bruins were taken with short-range equipment.

Wade Glessner, of Shippensburg, used a shotgun to take the year’s largest bear, a 722-pound male on Dec. 4 during the extended bear season in Letterkenny Township, Franklin County.

The second heaviest bear was killed with a bow by Neil Minnich of Nanticoke, Luzerne County. He shot a 681-pound male in archery season in Newport Township, Luzerne County.

The total 2021 harvest was the fifth largest in the agency’s history and was close to 2020’s kill of 3,621 bears. 

Pennsylvania hunters recorded their all-time best bear season in 2019, when they bagged 4,653. The PGC reports that was the third time since 2005 that the harvest topped 4,000 animals. The others were 2011 (4,350) and 2005 (4,162).

News you can use:Want to know about black bears in Pennsylvania? Check out this video

Need a bear checked in the field?

Call 833-PGC-HUNT or 833-PGC-WILD for an officer to respond.

Check station locations and times

The check stations for the regular firearm bear season will be open from 10 a.m to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, and Sunday, Nov. 20, at the following locations:

Northwest Region 

  • Clarion County — Farmington Township Volunteer Fire Co. 
  • Jefferson County — Friendship Hose Company #1
  • Venango County — Northwest Region Office, 1509 Pittsburgh Road, Franklin 
  • Warren County — Tidioute Borough Fire Hall

Southwest Region 

  • Indiana County — Homer City Fire Department
  • Somerset County — New Centerville Rural Fire Department
  • Westmoreland County — Southwest Region Office, Rt. 711, 7 miles north of Ligonier 

Northcentral Region 

  • Centre County — DCNR Penn Nursery, 137 Penn Nursery  Road, Spring Mills 
  • Clearfield County — PGC Maintenance Building, 4728 Quehanna Highway, Karthaus 
  • Clinton County — Chapman Township Fire Hall
  • Lycoming County — Antes Fort Fire Hall and Trout Run Fire Hall
  • McKean County — Mt. Jewett Fire Hall
  • Potter County — Coudersport Fire Hall 
  • Tioga County — Wellsboro Fire Company Social Building.

Sign up for outdoor news:Go Outdoors PA free newsletter

Southcentral Region 

  • Fulton County — Buchanan State Forest Building, just north of Rt. 30 on Rt. 915, 4.5 miles east of Breezewood.
  • Huntingdon County — SGL 322 Building, 8877 Petersburg Pike, Petersburg, 3 miles west from Cold Spring Road in Huntingdon

Northeast Region

  • Carbon County — SGL 141 Maintenance Building, 526 Behrens Road, Jim Thorpe 
  • Lackawanna County — Fleetville Fire Co., 58 Firehouse Lane, Fleetville. 
  • Luzerne County — Northeast Region Office, 3917 Memorial Highway, Dallas
  • Monroe County — SGL 127 Building, Rt. 423, 2 miles south of Tobyhanna
  • Pike County — SGL 180 Shohola Building, Rt. 6 at Shohola Falls, 13 miles south of Hawley 
  • Sullivan County — DCNR Loyalsock State Forest Resource Management Center, 6735 Rt. 220, 7 miles south of Dushore 

Southeast Region 

  • Berks County — Southeast Region Office, 253 Snyder Road, 7 miles north of Reading 
  • Dauphin County — Game Commission Headquarters, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg.

Extended bear season/rifle deer season

The bear check stations are open during the extended firearm seasons as follows:

Northwest Region 

  • Venango County — Northwest Region Office, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Warren County — SGL 143 Building, 375 Moore Lane, Pittsfield, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 

Southwest Region 

  • Westmoreland County  — Southwest Region Office, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Somerset County — New Centerville Rural Fire Department, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.

Northcentral Region 

  • Centre County — DCNR Penn Nursery, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Lycoming County — Northcentral Region Office, 1566 S. Rt. 44 Hwy., Jersey Shore, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 8 a.m - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Tioga County —  SGL 208 Headquarters Building, 1749 Rt. 349, Gaines, Nov. 26-28, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m.

Southcentral Region 

  • Fulton County — Buchanan State Forest Building, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Huntingdon County —  SGL 322 Building, Nov. 26-Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 

Northeast Region 

  • Carbon County — SGL 141 Maintenance Building, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Lackawanna County — Fleetville Fire Company, Nov. 26-Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m.
  • Luzerne County — Northeast Region Office, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Monroe County — SGL 127 Building, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Pike County — SGL 180 Shohola Building, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Sullivan County  — DCNR Loyalsock State Forest Resource Management Center, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 

Southeast Region 

  • Berks County —  Southeast Region Office, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m. 
  • Dauphin County —  Game Commission Headquarters, Nov. 26-27, noon - 7 p.m.; Nov. 28- Dec. 2, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, noon - 7 p.m.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.