Pennsylvania Yields High Black Bear Harvest in 2020

Keystone State bear hunters experienced their 6th best season ever.

Pennsylvania Yields High Black Bear Harvest in 2020

Pennsylvania black bear hunters had a banner year in 2020. (Photo: iStock Images/Don White)

Pennsylvania hunters had another exceptional year, taking 3,608 black bears in 2020. And while that harvest number is about 20 percent lower than last year’s record harvest of 4,653 bears, it aligns with the annual average of 3,675 bears taken over the past five seasons and is the second-highest harvest during that period. It also indicates that Pennsylvania has a healthy black bear population.

Benefiting from a season that was extended by one week, bowhunters set a new harvest record of 948, breaking the former record of 561 set in 2019. Harvest numbers in the other bear seasons fell, which is not uncommon. The two-year-old muzzleloader/special firearms seasons harvest slipped from 1,340 to 1,038, the general firearms season harvest went from 1,629 to 1,170 and the extended season harvest, which typically is inconsistent, went from 1,117 to 432.

Often influenced by fall food availability, weather and hunter actions, bear harvests historically have changed abruptly from one year to the next. The harvest decline from 2019 to 2020, marks the second time in 20 years the bear harvest in back-to-back years has decreased by 1,000 or more bears. The annual bear harvest also has increased by 1,000 bears four times over the same period.

Pennsylvania’s annual bear harvest has exceeded 4,000 bears three times during the past 20 years. In each subsequent harvest year, the harvest dropped by hundreds of bears. After the harvest of 4,311 in 2011, the harvest dropped to 3,632; after 2005’s harvest of 4,164, the harvest slipped to 3,124 in 2006.

According to PA Game Commission bear biologist Emily Carrollo, this ebb-and-flow has appeared in Pennsylvania bear harvests for the past century. “It’s the nature and reality of bear hunting,” she said. “The agency will analyze factors that might have affected last fall’s bear harvest in the months to come through surveys, field work and research projects.” That work seeks out hunter preferences, examines fall food availability and measures the effectiveness of the state’s slate of bear seasons on black bears, particularly pregnant females.

The largest bear through all 2020 seasons is the 719-pound male taken with a crossbow on November 7 in Ayr Township, Fulton County, by Abby Strayer, of McConnellsburg.

The heaviest bear ever taken in Pennsylvania was an 875-pounder harvested in 2010 in Middle Smithfield Township, Pike County. Since 1992, seven black bears weighing at least 800 pounds have been lawfully harvested during Pennsylvania hunting seasons.

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