What has big canine teeth, long claws, can weigh more than 600 pounds and wears a thick black coat? This same animal has a keen sense of smell and hearing, as well. It can be a pain to honey bee keepers but also is able to avoid man when necessary.
To be truthful, the black bear’s ability to avoid old George during the hunting season is uncanny as well.
That is why I trudge north to Warren, McKean and Cameron counties, doing little more than taking my rifle for a walk.
Despite my failures when it comes to hunting bear, the story of the black bear here in Pennsylvania is one of hunting’s true success stories.
A hunter traveling to the mountains knows every season there will be between 2,000 and 4,000 bears killed in this state by hunters. Not only that, but the Pennsylvania black bear is probably the largest to be found anywhere.
When I told a guide from Wyoming there had been black bears weighing as much as 700 pounds taken in Pennsylvania, he told me size was larger than many grizzly bears.
I knew he didn’t believe me, so I sent him a copy of the Game News reporting just such a bear. While they are not common, we are home to many large black bears.
The problem with bear hunting in Pennsylvania is where to go to find one.
Most residents simply hunt wherever they have a camp located. If you have a camp near Tionesta, you hunt Forest County. If your summer home is near Grunderville, you hunt in Warren County. So it goes.
When looking at the western side of the Susquehanna River, most of the northern counties – except those along the Ohio border – have a good population of black bear.
I have seen bear while hiking, driving, fishing and hunting with a bow, but have never seen one during bear season that I would shoot.
I have spotted them in Forest, McKean, Potter and Cameron counties, but always at the wrong time of year.
My only bear sighting during the season was a cub I saw in the snow near Warren. It was one of those mornings when the snow covered the ground, but there also was some warm rain.
The fog was rising from the snow, making visibility difficult. The hill we called the round top was just north of the gravel pit that would later become a garbage dump.
My friend, Ed, was on his stand, while I was moving along the side of the round top, hopefully to see or chase a bear to him.
After I bit, I saw a break in the fog, and there, about 75 yards away, was a bear. I instantly knew it was a cub, but as I strained my eyes, I couldn’t see any other bears with it.
Upon later examination, I found that momma bear was about 30 yards away, masked by the fog.
Another time, I was walking along a mountain ridge above the town of Crosby in McKean County when I encountered four bears. It was archery season, and my only defense was a recurve bow.
I had walked by a very large momma bear in the 400-pound class as it rooted in a decaying log. There were two cubs with her that were both about 150 poounds.
Fortunately, they departed quickly when they got my scent.
But let the season begin and bears avoid me like the plague.
I might have figured it out, and it’s not an insult. They just know what a great shot I amd and are afraid of me.
Believe that, and you’ll believe anything.
Where would I hunt if I were hunting for a trophy?
There are good locations in Forest County, and the same could be said of neighboring Warren County.
I have seen more bear near Crosby in McKean County than anywhere else, but I believe the best place of all is near Driftwood in Cameron County.
This steep, rugged terrain consistently produces a high bear harvest.
Looking at the numbers and comparing Cameron County to others is a bit unfair because Cameron County is one of the smallest in the state.
Then again, if you took a large iron and flattened it out, it would be one of the state’s largest.
George H. Block writes a Sunday Outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.