Hunters using bows or crossbows get the first shot at a bear this year, as archery season begins Monday and runs through Friday.
Rifle season starts next Saturday, breaks for Sunday that weekend and resumes Nov. 19 to 21.
In addition, the state Game Commission has established extended hunting seasons for certain wildlife management units, or WMUs.
Chasing a record
Last year was a record season in Pennsylvania for bear hunters, who took 4,350 bruins in 54 of the state's 67 counties.
The second-highest harvest was in 2005, when 4,164 bears were taken.
The woods are full of food for bears this fall. There are a lot of acorns on the ground, and the hunting outlook for the northcentral region is looking good, according to Game Commission officials.
"This year, there is a good mast crop and that can spread the bears around," said Dave Carlini, information and education supervisor for the commission's northcentral region office. "Hunters may have to do some scouting to find them."
Hunters looking to bag a bruin should key in on corn fields and other food sources such as acorns to find them. Scouting will benefit hunters.
Last year a food shortage in the region drove bears north, giving Tioga and Potter counties a very good harvest, Carlini said.
The northcentral region leads the state for the number of bears harvested during archery season, Carlini said. "Archers do well," he said.
Residents reported quite a few bear complaints to the northcentral office this year. They complained about bears tearing up garbage cans, destroying cornfields and beehives and causing other types of agricultural damage.
Based on the number of complaints, officials with the northcentral office are predicting that the bear population numbers could be up this season.
With an available, rich food source within easy access, bears will stay out of hibernation longer and spend more time foraging, Game Commission biologists said. This can help bear hunters fill their tags.
"Pennsylvania is known for the size of its black bears. It has always been said there is a world-class bear out there," Carlini said.
The commission believes several "trophy" sized bears may be in Pennsylvania's woods this fall.
"This has earned Pennsylvania recognition as one of the top states for bear hunters. Every year, we have a number of bears exceeding 500 pounds included in the harvest," Carl G. Roe, executive director of the Game Commission, said in a recent news release.
Last year, hunters harvested 88 bears that weighed more than 500 pounds. More than half of that number weighed more than 600 pounds.
In past years, Lycoming and Clinton counties have ranked at the top, or close to it, for bear harvests during each season.
Good weather also tends to result in more bears harvested.
After the statewide rifle season ends on Nov. 21, certain WMUs will be open for extended seasons. One extension for WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D will run concurrently with the entire two-week deer season, from Nov. 26 to Dec. 8.
Extended seasons were approved by the board of game commissioners to help the state agency achieve its goal of reducing bear-human conflicts in urbanized areas of the southwestern and southeastern parts of the state.
In WMUs 3D, 4C, 4D, 4E, an extended bear season is open Nov. 28 to Dec. 1.
Other seasons are Nov. 26 to Dec. 1 in portions of WMU 2G in Lycoming and Clinton counties and WMU 3B in Lycoming County; all of WMUs 3A and 3C; portions of WMU 3B. For details on these areas, see the commission's regulations booklet or its website.
Those who plan on hunting bear must have a general hunting license and a bear license, which can be purchased through Friday or from Nov. 22 to 25.
During the four-day bear season, which runs from Nov. 17-21, bear license sales temporarily will be closed. Bear licenses are not part of the junior or senior combination licenses and must be purchased separately.
Bears must be taken to a check station within 24 hours of harvest.
Anyone may visit check stations to see bears that have been harvested and to watch Game Commission officials and staff as they collect biological information.
The data collected is used to study issues such as mange and aging and to count the numbers of tagged bears versus non-tagged bears.
"The big thing is, we are counting numbers," Carlini said.
The check stations also give the public some education on the species and, for some, can be their first up-close look at a Pennsylvania black bear.
Other rules regarding bear season include:
Bears may not be killed when they are in a den.
A properly licensed hunter is allowed to kill one bear per season.
It is also unlawful to hunt in areas where artificial or natural bait, hay, grain, fruit, nuts, salt, chemicals, minerals, including residue or other foods, are used, or have been used, as an enticement to lure wildlife within the past 30 days; use scents or lures; pursue bears with dogs; or to hunt bears in a party of more than 25 persons; and use a radio to locate a bear that has a radio-transmitter attached to it.
Bear hunters must wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back, combined, and it must be visible at 360 degrees.
Harvested bears must be tagged in the field with the harvest tag.
During the archery season, hunters may contact a game commission regional office within 24 hours to have a bear checked by an wildlife conservation officer.
Check stations and schedules are available on the Game Commission's website or by calling a regional office.