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Area hunters taking advantage of bonus bear hunting

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 7:55 p.m.
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Dale Hajas of Latrobe shot this 292-pound black bear in Berks County on Sept. 27. It was his first bear and came just hours after he bought his first bear license. Hajas was deer hunting when the bear crossed his path.

Dale Hajas' deer-hunting career took an unusual twist this fall.

The Latrobe man is the Westmoreland County representative for the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania.

As such, he was invited to take part in a deer hunt near Kempton in Berks County, part of wildlife management unit 5C, in September.

It's meant to match up hunters with doe tags with farmers suffering from crop damage.

A look at the farm Hajas was assigned to hunt revealed evidence of a black bear being around, too. With archers there (as well as in wildlife management units 2B, which surrounds Pittsburgh, and 5D surrounding Philadelphia) allowed to take bears as early as Sept. 21, he was urged to get a bear license.

He did, and five hours later, Hajas bagged a 292-pound bruin.

“What's funny is, I live in bear country or at least on the edge of some pretty good bear country, and I've never been bear hunting,” Hajas said. “I always knew there were bears in the areas I hunt, but I'd never seen one. That was my first in-stand experience.

“But it was a life-changing event. When I turned in my stand and saw him, he was just stunning. I can't believe now how stupid I was for never having bought a bear license before.”

Bagging his bear caused quite the stir.

The farm on which he shot it is surrounded by lots of people. During the five hours he was in his stand, Hajas said he saw a young boy riding a mini-bike, a girl walking a dog and a couple of people on all-terrain vehicles. A wedding party even held practice at the church where Hajas parked his car, 100 yards or so from his stand.

Yet no one seemingly had ever seen the bear before or knew that it was around. A crowd of people — including the family of the farmer who owned the property — drove as much as an hour to see it, Hajas said.

The bear was likely the first taken by an archer in the state this year.

It wasn't the last. Last Wednesday, another archer bagged a bear in Allegheny County's Frazer Township.

He spotted the bear in the process of dragging out of the woods a deer he already had bagged with a bow, said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's southwest region office.

Commission officials are hoping a few more bears will follow it out of the suburban woods.

The early bear season — which also was open to muzzleloader hunters in certain units like 2B this past week — is meant to target bears living in populated areas where there is decent bear habitat but also lots of people and roads. It's in such places that bears most often run into trouble, said Mark Ternent, bear biologist for the agency.

“It's not that they're aggressive or anything like that. It's just generally nuisance issues,” he said.

About 80 percent of the bear complaints the commission receives from the public involve bears raiding garbage cans and bird feeders, he said, and almost all come from urban and suburban areas.

The early hunt is not meant to wipe them out. Instead, it allows for a few bears to live in the suburbs while also giving hunters the opportunity to keep their numbers in check, he said.

“There's a lot of good bear habitat in places like wildlife management unit 2B. But in general, it's not a place where we want a large bear population to develop,” Ternent said.

Hunters have been having success.

The early archery bear season came into being last fall after a hunter shot a bear in Fawn in Allegheny County the previous year. That was the first bear taken in the county since at least the 1940s, when the commission began keeping records, and more likely the first in at least 100 years, Fazi said.

Last year, they took six more in Allegheny County, three during the archery season and three during the extended firearms season. Another two died after being struck by vehicles.

Across the state, hunters took 13 bears during the early archery season.

More remain, though.

“There are others out there. We've gotten reports of people seeing them,” said Dan Puhala, one of the commission's wildlife conservation officers in Allegheny County. “There are still some running around.”

Perhaps some lucky hunter like Hajas will take one. It has set him on a definite path. In addition to making him a bear hunter from here on, it's given him a more immediate goal.

He took this bear with a compound bow. He now wants to shoot a buck with a recurve bow this fall, then bag a turkey in the spring with his self bow, which is a bow made from a single piece of wood.

“I'm not a very good turkey hunter, but my brother is, and I've already told him that if a buck walks in front of me with my recurve, he's going to spend his April with me looking for a gobbler,” Hajas said with a laugh. “I don't know how it will go. But it will be fun no matter what.”

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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