SOMERSET, Pa. Bear harvests have dropped the past three seasons in Pennsylvania's Somerset County, but local wildlife conservation officers report numerous damage complaints from farmers this summer and are looking forward to a good hunting season.
"If the weather cooperates, it should be a banner year for black bears," said Somerset County WCO Travis Anderson.
His statement is echoed by fellow WCO Brian Witherrite, who covers the other half of the county.
"Bears are doing a tremendous amount of damage to farmers' cornfields,"
Witherrite said. "The number of complaints has soared since mid-August."
Anderson reports that he caught nine bears in nine days while handling nusiance complaints last month. The bears ranged in weight from 100 to 400 pounds and were spread out across his district.
One of the bears he caught was a recapture from a previous year; the bear is believed to be 20 years old.
Somerset County contains six state game lands, plus sections of the Gallitzin State Forest, so finding a place to hunt is not a problem.
In areas of heavy agriculture, farmers often allow hunting simply because of the destruction the bear do to crops, according to Witherite.
When it comes to top public ground picks, SGL 111 in western Somerset is a solid choice. With nearly 11,000 acres in the Laurel Highlands, it's prime bear territory.
Add to that next-door Ohiopyle State Park, and hunters have a huge chunk of territory covered in laurel and oak trees that bruins thrive in.
Another public tract that gained attention is SGL 50, which lies on the outskirts of Somerset, just off Route 219. This parcel is highlighted by a couple of big bears hitting residential garbage cans on the outskirts of town on a regular basis.
The bears also have access to nearby crop fields, which makes the area doubly attractive.
"Finding a good food source and scouting it out for bear sign is the best approach," said WCO Anderson.
"With the bears feeding on upwards of 20,000 calories a day in preparation for their hibernation, they will be looking for the best food sources available, and sticking with them until they are cleaned up."
Last year 51 bears were taken in Somerset County, down from 75 in 2003 and 88 in 2002. The season runs Nov. 2123.
Find out more about the bear hunting in Somerset County by calling Mountain Man Sports Shop (814-443-9595) in Berlin.
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