Bob Frye: Extended seasons salvage bear harvest
Talk about a big finish. Wow.
Pennsylvania's 2017 black bear harvest really was lagging there for a while, thanks to some poor weather.
Rains across most of the state on opening day of the firearms season limited hunter participation. And that had the kill way down.
While hunters did OK the next few days, they never made up all of the ground they lost. The harvest during the four-day season was 1,832 animals, according to preliminary figures from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
That was 30 percent lower than the year before.
At that rate, the bear harvest was on pace to be the lowest in a decade.
And then came the extended bear hunting seasons.
Like the cavalry in an old Western, they saved the day. Hunters killed a whopping 1,051 bears while also looking for deer.
That, combined with the archery take, and this year's bear harvest stands at 3,367 animals.
So, if that figure holds — the commission won't release a final, official number until February or so — it will be just 5 percent off last year's kill of 3,529 bears. That was the state's fifth best ever.
As usual, the season produced some mighty animals.
The biggest was a 700 pounder taken in Oil Creek Township, Venango County, by Chad A. Wagner of Titusville.
But four other bears topped 600 pounds, and the top 10, by weight, all weighed at least 576 pounds.
They came from all over, too: Perry, Elk, Warren, Wayne, Potter, Armstrong, Tioga, Crawford, Centre, Clinton and Luzerne counties.
Hunters took bears in 54 counties overall. That includes Greene, which gave up its first bear in at least 100 years this fall.
The north central and northeast regions of the state — and there's no surprise here — accounted for the most bears taken. The northwest, south central, southwest and the southeast followed, in that order.
Among counties, Lycoming led the way. Hunters killed 250 bears there across all seasons. Tioga was next with 209.
Rounding out the top 10 were Pike with 190, Sullivan with 155, Wayne with 154, Clinton with 153, Potter with 152, Bradford with 108, Luzerne with 107 and Warren with 106.
Nearer Pittsburgh, Somerset County produced 75 bears. Hunters took 63 in Fayette, 57 in Bedford, 36 in Armstrong, 25 in Westmoreland, 20 in Cambria, 18 in Butler, 11 in Indiana, one in Allegheny and the one in Greene.
Never give up.
Years like this one, with abundant wild food supplies and mild weather, have bears out of their dens and active through deer season. That's not unheard of.
So hunters — even those who don't consider themselves bear hunters per se — might want to spend the little extra money and get themselves a bear tag each year if they'll be hunting where extended seasons are open.
It only takes one to make a memory.