Share This Page

McKean County camp sets standard for bear hunters

There are two things you need to know about the guys who make up the R.C. Luce Bear Camp in McKean County.

First, they like to have a good time, even if it comes at each other's expense.

Just ask Jeff Puschnigg. He gets teased constantly about his annual taxidermy bill and, in a camp where everyone lives on eggs, sausage and baked beans, about his, well, smells. Scott "Scooter" Piper can tell you the first one to fall asleep or pass out often wakes up with a face covered in "war paint" delivered via a Sharpie. Roy Henry can say that taking on a decades-younger high school "wrassler" will leave you with a bloody nose.

Secondly — and most importantly — they know how to bag Pennsylvania black bears.

The campers, all of whom hail from the Stahlstown area, took four bears this fall.

That's impressive enough in a state where only about 2 percent of the nearly 150,000 bear hunters get an animal in any particular year, and many go years without so much as seeing a bear in season. But it only tells a small part of the story.

The camp has taken 102 bears — with rifles, slug guns, pistols and bows — in its 30-year existence.

And things are only getting better. It took 20 years — from the camp's founding in 1981 to 2000 — to hit the 51-bear plateau. It took the past 10 years to double that.

"That's a tribute to knowing what you're doing and the bear population just exploding," said Henry.

"What I always tell guys is that the good old days of bear hunting are right now," added Bill Hunter, who founded the camp and took its first bear. "There are a lot more bears now than there used to be. A lot more."

It's no accident the camp is so successful at taking them. Its hunters work at it.

They spend all three days of the season on public land timber cuts, posting and driving. This year, Piper — who got teased for looking as if he was under "house arrest" because of the ankle bracelet-style pedometer he was wearing — measured the distance the drivers walked at 32 miles.

"Sometimes, we have to walk two miles back in just to get to the cut because they're behind gates," said Puschnigg. "We push all day until dark, then we have to walk back out."

"There are no lunch breaks either," said Dan Pochciol, whose 14-year-old son, Daniel, was one of those to bag a bear this year. "We eat on the run or at best in the trucks moving from one cut to another."

The woods they walk are not easy either. They hunt only fresh cuts, those less than eight or 10 years old, because they have the hellaciously thick cover bears prefer.

"If you're not bleeding when you come out the other side, it's not thick enough," Hunter said.

It works for them, though. Just twice in the past 30 years has the camp gotten skunked. There were two years when the camp took eight bears and two when it took seven.

"When we pull into the check station, the game wardens recognize us and just ask, 'How many have you got?' We show them and tell them we'll see them again the next day," said Dan Hunter.

They've had so much success that their focus now is on helping junior hunters. Three of the four hunters who took bears this year were kids — boys and girls — as were three last year.

"A lot of the guys who started out at camp now have kids coming up," said Hank "Chief Ten Bears" Balles, who's killed that many. "It's all about helping them now."

And of course having fun.

"We work hard," Henry said. "But we have a good time."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.