At 9:30 am on Monday morning Walt Rupnik from Breinigsville was in the Promised Land State Park looking for his first bear in his 35 years of hunting. What he ended up with was a 651 pound (live weight) black bear that received rave reviews at the Shohola Bear Check Station.

At 9:30 am on Monday morning Walt Rupnik from Breinigsville was in the Promised Land State Park looking for his first bear in his 35 years of hunting. What he ended up with was a 651 pound (live weight) black bear that received rave reviews at the Shohola Bear Check Station.

“Basically I was just about done for the morning hunt and I was coming in and I had to crawl through the laurel to get back to my buddy’s cabin that we’ve been hunting out of for 35 years. I crawled right into him (the bear). He was laying in the laurel looking right at me and I pulled the gun up, I had a 44 magnum pistol and I shot him once and he went 15 yards,” said Rupnik.

Rupnik wasn’t the only hunter out in the Pennsylvania woods. As of 4 pm he was the 19th hunter to bring a bear to the check station in Shohola, but his was by far the biggest of the day so far. Most of the bears brought to the station range in average weight of between 200-220 pounds. Currently there are about 13,000 to 15,000 black bears in PA, with hunters harvesting an average of 2,500 to 3,000 a year. In 2005, the state saw the largest number of harvested bears when the total reached 4,164.

Robert Matyas of Lower Nazareth was the next to come into the station and is no stranger to bagging the big one. He has recorded a total of 35 bears in his lifetime, and has brought down everything from polar bears to grizzly bears. He was out with his wife Lois, who was looking for her first bear. “I wanted to take Lois out and have her get a bear. She’s new to hunting and just took her hunting safety course. I’ve taken one other bear there (Dingmans Ferry) a couple of years ago. The bear came to me however and she was a couple hundred yards away, it was heading down towards her but if we let it go it could have veered off. You just can’t do that. I would have been happier if she would have got it, but I did and worldwide this was my 35th bear,” said Matyas.

Scott Klinger, the Wildlife biologist with the Game Commission, was on hand at the Shohola Bear Check Station to make sure things run smoothly and to oversee the processes that must be completed when a hunter brings in their bear. “I’ve been with the game commission for 15 years but I’ve been coming to Shohola for the past four years. There are 27 bear check stations around the state. All bears harvested in the state of Pennsylvania must come to a check station. Hunters have 24 hours to get them to a check station,” said Klinger.

The Process

The process is not that complicated. Once a hunter gets a bear they have to attach the bear tag, usually through the ear and done in the field. Then the hunter takes the bear to the most convenient bear check station. At the station, PA Game Commission people on staff and volunteers will check the bear over for any abnormalities and they will then record that. The next thing that is done is that they weigh the bear.

Then they check for any other tags on the bear or for tattoos that are used for tracking the bear’s age and location throughout its life. For instance, Rupnik’s 651 lb. bear had a tatoo and was 16 years. It was caught and tagged by the Game Commission in 1994. They said it was two years old in 1994 when it was tagged and tatooed.

Then a tooth is pulled to determine the age of the bear. A premolar, which is located directly behind the large canines, is pulled because it is small and easy to extract. No teeth are pulled from bears less than one year old because their age can be determined by tooth replacement, similar to human children losing teeth as permanent teeth develop. Then the process is basically over after the Game Commission checks out your information, bear license, valid ID etc., and you then go on your way.

110,000 Bears

“We estimate that we have about 110,000 bear hunters in Pennsylvania and we’re hoping to harvest 3,200 to 3,500 bears,” said Klinger.

The actual number of bears harvested has seen a steady decline. In 1998 the first day of bear season saw 162 brought to the Shohola check station. In 2007 it saw just 32.

“It has really gone down since 2006 here at this check station and one of the reasons is that we have gone to an extended season the last two years. That will not be the case this year. In Wildlife Management 3D there is no extended season this year. In the last two seasons, we’ve had an extended season and the purpose is to reduce the bear population and we’ve done that. We tried to lower the bear population simply because we’ve had more and more conflicts between bears and people. The more people and bears come into contact with each other the greater the probability that something bad is going to happen,” said Klinger.

Bear Problems

There are not a lot of instances in PA where bears actually do harm someone, but still there are some. Problems have occurred because of several factors. People are choosing to live in forested areas that are prime bear habitats. Bears that have access to food around the home have the potential to develop expectations of similar rewards around any home that they encounter, which will often lead to problems. Eliminating attractants and preventing bears from being rewarded around homes greatly reduces the chance of a conflict.

“It is usually related to people getting to close to bears. Feeding them, trying to draw them closer. If a bear has an escape route, male or female, they want to take that route. If you get between a bear and her cubs don’t make any movements that look like you are going after her cubs. The other thing is make yourself bigger. You’re not going to outrun a bear and forget climbing a tree, they are tremendous climbers. Make yourself bigger, loud, noisy, they want to get away from you,” added Klinger.

Family Event

It’s not all serious business at the Shohola Check Station, though safety and a professional atmosphere are of utmost importance. The Station itself has a family feeling. It has the atmosphere of a traditional Thanksgiving gathering with crockpots steaming, cakes and pies lining the counters and people of all ages and backgrounds out in the parking lot and garage area waiting to get a look at the bears brought in. When a pick-up truck does back into the garage, ready to begin the check-in process, cameras are flashing, video recorders are catching the action and the hunter is showered with congratulations and “good jobs.” It makes the three day event something that is anticipated for many months beforehand and something that brings out the good-hearted nature of people who all have a passion for the sport of hunting.

“We spend three days together every year and it’s not just at this bear check station. We have a lot of volunteers, people who love coming every year and helping with the check station. We get a lot of local people who come in every year, this time of year, right before Thanksgiving, and they check out how the bear season is going. Fifty, 60, 70 people pack in here. It also gives us the opportunity to explain the program and to show people that we are protecting the bear resource. We’re not up here trying to wipe the bears out. We’re trying to maintain the population and hunters are the method to achieving that,” concluded Klinger.