By Al Raychard

Hunting Methods: Legal drives,* still hunting and hunting over natural foods. Baiting and use of dogs prohibited statewide.

*Refer to hunting regulations for definition and particulars.

Bag Limit: One bear per license year.

License Availability/Cost: Licenses may be purchased at venders statewide or on line.

            Resident Adult Hunting License age 17 and older: $20.70

            Non-Resident Adult Hunting License age 17 and older: $101.70

            Resident Bear License: $16.70

            Non-Resident Bear License: $36.70

Estimated Bear Population: 15,000+

Range/Hunting Area: Bears are apt to be found in all 67 counties. Bear Hunting is allowed statewide during statewide season but only in certain wildlife management units during extended seasons.

Spring Hunts: No

Fall Hunts: Yes (Varies by season and wildlife management unit. Some season open as early as September 1 and some close as late as December 14).

Legal Weapons: Manually operated center-fire rifles, handguns and shotguns with all-lead bullets or ball, or a bullet designed to expand on impact; muzzleloading firearms of any type or caliber; long, recurve or compound bows with a peak draw weight not less than 35 pounds and crossbows with a draw weight not less than 125 pounds and not more than 200 pounds. Bowhunters must use arrows equipped with broadheads having an outside cutting diameter of at least 7/8-inches with no less than two (2) cutting edges.

Special Regulations Areas: All of Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties are restricted to muzzleloading long guns, bow and arrow, manual-loading shotguns 20 gauge or larger with slugs. In addition, only crossbows and bows and arrows are allowed in Philadelphia County.  

Special Permits and Requirements: A regular hunting license in addition to bear hunting license is required to hunt bear. 250 square inches of fluorescent orange must be worn on the head, chest and back. And all bears must be officially checked at a Game Commission check station. For more information on bear hunting regulations hunters should check the 2013-2014 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. 

Contacts: Pennsylvania Game Commission

               (717) 787-4250 *

               Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

               (717) 787-2703 *

               Allegheny National Forest

               (814) 723-5150 *            


Pennsylvania may not have as many bear as some other states across the country and provinces north of the border but what the commonwealth may lack in bear numbers it more than makes up for in potential size. In a word, few other jurisdictions produce as many large bear year after year, bears tipping the scale at 500 pounds being the “large” bear benchmark.

            To get a better idea of how such a statement can be made consider the number of “large” specimens taken each year since 2009. That year 13 bear were taken weighing 600 confirmed pounds or more. The largest was a 668-pound male, live weight. In 2010, the number of 600-pounders dropped to 11 but the largest that year was an 875-pound male, live weight, taken with a crossbow. The behemoth dressed at 744 pounds, a new state record, beating the older state record by more than 15 pounds and is ranked Number 2 in the world, missing the Number 1 spot by just four pounds. The skull scored 21-15/16 inches. In 2011 88 bear tipped the scales at 500 pounds or more with 25 of those surpassing the 600-pound mark. Seven other bear also weighed more than 700 pounds in 2011 with several others within a few pounds of that impressive mark. In 2012, 45 bear weighed in at 500 pounds or more, including five over 600 pounds, the largest according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) weighing 709 pounds.

            If it is a chance at a “large” bear Pennsylvania is the place to plan a hunt. But it is not the only reason. At the beginning we said Pennsylvania may not have as many bear as some other state and provinces but it does have its share, and the number is growing despite increased hunting opportunities in recent years. Back in the early 1970s it was estimated 4,000 bear roamed the state. Today the number is officially estimated at 15,000 although biologists have a high level of confidence the number is actually higher. Part of the reason is the availability of prime habitat and abundance of natural foods, but according to biologists Pennsylvania’s bears mature and start having young at an earlier age than counterparts in most areas of the country. On average litter size and survival rates of cubs is also higher.     

            Whatever the reason, the population is at a modern-day high and bear are apt to be found throughout the state except in highly developed areas. Historically, the best hunting counties in Pennsylvania have been in the north-central and northeast regions. These regions still produce the largest number of bear each year and remain the core bear range but as the bear population has increased so have numbers in peripheral areas where bears were once considered uncommon. In the western part of the state, for example, Fayette and Somerset Counties produced just 16 bear in 1993, combined. In 2011 the total was 142. In Butler County no bear were killed in 1993 but hunters there killed 12 in 2010 and nine in 2012. In 2012 hunters killed bear in 56 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties compared to 54 counties in 2011 and just 49 counties in 2007.

            And hunters in Pennsylvania take their share of bear each year. In 2012 the total harvest for all seasons was 3,632, 718 less than the record-setting 4,350 taken in 2011 but the third highest total ever recorded. Over 3,000 bear have been killed 10 years out of the past 13. Combined, in 2011 and 2012 Pennsylvania hunters killed 7,982 bear across the state, more than any other two-year period since 1915 when the game commission set the first bear limit and harvest records were first keep. By comparison, during the same two years just 5,500 bear were killed in Maine, which is typically considered a bigger or better-known bear hunting state.

            The amazing thing about these figures is, although hunters in Pennsylvania have more opportunity to hunt bears than ever, including extended firearms and extended archery seasons and this year a muzzleloader bear season and special firearms season for junior and senior bear license holders, disabled hunters and resident active duty military personal in certain wildlife management units, compared to Maine and many other states Pennsylvania’s hunting seasons are rather short. In 2012, 262 bear were killed during the five-day statewide archery season with an impressive 2,685 killed during the statewide firearm season which lasts just four days. The rest were killed during various extended archery and extended firearms seasons in certain wildlife management units. In 2011, 3,154 bear were killed during the four-day statewide firearms season. Even with these new opportunities and extended hunting season options in certain areas, considering the baiting of bears and hunting with dogs is prohibited and still hunting or legal drives are the primary hunting method few states come close to such consistently high harvest totals.

            In 2013, the statewide archery season (including crossbows) will run November 18 through November 22, but archers in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D can take advantage of an extended archery season starting September 1 and ending November 16. Archers in WMU 5B can hunt starting October 5 through November 16.

            The statewide firearms season will run November 23, 25, 26 and 27. Extended firearms seasons will be available in WMUs 4C, 4D and 4E December 4 through December 7, in WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D December 2 through December 14 and in WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D December 2 through December 7.

The special muzzleloader bear season in WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D will take place October 19 through 26 and the Special Bear Firearms Season will run October 24 through October 26 in WMUs 2Bm 5B 5C and 5D.         

            Another thing Pennsylvania bear hunters can take advantage of is plenty of public land to hunt.

Scattered across the state are more than 2.2 million acres of state forests and some 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands (SGL). Much of it is prime bear habitat and rest within some of Pennsylvania’s top bear-producing counties in the northeast, north-central, south-central and southwest regions of the state. 

A list of the SGL will be found on the PGC website. For a list of state forests hunters should visit the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website. It should also be pointed out Pennsylvania is home to Allegheny National Forest, which sprawls over one-half million acres in the north-central counties, the perennial top bear-producing counties in the state.