Hunting Pennsylvania Black Bears by Bob Stellfox
Hunting the Pennsylvania black bear takes a dedicated crew of hunters. As the captain of a very successful bear hunting crew, I've seen some of the toughest men I know succumb to the stomping grounds of the Pennsylvania black bear. Unlike many other states, we cannot bait or use dogs to drive them out. In Pennsylvania, we hunters must be the dogs, which leads me to my story.
It was the third and last day of the Pennsylvania bear season in 1995. Twelve of us had hunted hard for the first two days of the season, but, as of yet, all of our best drives had left us wondering where the bears we had previously scouted out had disappeared to. As the guys filtered out of the bunk room it was impossible not to notice the lack of desire and enthusiasm that had once been so prevalent. As the captain, I knew I had to say something to try to pick up the spirits of the crew, even though I was feeling the same way. I reminded them, "Just think, guys, we could be at work." As the last word exited my mouth I realized that some of them probably wished they were.
After an hour-long climb to the top of the mountain we finally got our first drive of the day underway, but, when the drivers came out to the watchers and no shots had rung out across the hollow, we all knew that time was running out. The second drive produced the same results as the first, and, as we all gathered to start the third drive, I knew this would be the last one of the day simply because everyone was physically and mentally drained. As it was, I set the watch, dropping off one watcher at a time with myself being the bottom man.
As I stood there, anxiously waiting to hear the "Yo's" of the drivers, I heard a stick crack just out in front of me about 50 yards. On the alert, I scanned through the mountain laurel as best I could in an effort to pick up any movement. After about 15 minutes of seeing nothing, I convinced myself that I was hearing things, even though I knew better from past experience. It wasn't long before I could finally hear the distant "Yo's" coming from the drivers as they got closer and closer. I had a feeling that something was about to happen. I could just feel it! Sure enough, a shot rang out just above me, then another, and another, and another.
I waited awhile and once everything got quiet I called the watcher above me on the walkie talkie to see if he had killed the bear. I asked, "Paul, did you get him?" Paul's excited reply was that the bear had been hit, but had kept going. I asked Paul to stay put while I climbed the hillside a little to get a better vantage point. I hadn't gone 100 yards when I noticed the mountain laurel shaking violently below me and to my left. As I scoped the laurel I could see the bear intermittently, but could not get a good shot at him because of the thick laurel. Picking out the best opening I could, I shot four rounds hoping to finish off the bear.
The laurel stopped shaking, but I wasn't sure if the bear was dead or if he had just moved out of that spot. Not being sure, I radioed Paul again and told him what had happened and that I wanted him to move down the hollow far enough so that he would be below me. I was going to go down to see if the bear was dead or had just moved. It wasn't long before Paul called me and reported that he was in place, so I proceeded to cautiously move down to where I had last seen the bear. As I neared the spot, I could hear the bear breathing but still could not see him. I took two more steps and there he was. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell the head from the tail end because of the thickness of the mountain laurel. I took my best opening and shot. Immediately, the bear jumped and rolled down the hill to the bottom of the hollow. As the bear tried to get up, Paul was in the perfect spot and finally finished him off.
Now the real work was about to begin. We were over a mile from the nearest road or trail. The bear was too big to drag that far, so I decided to case skin him and pack the meat out. It took 12 men with backpacks to bring all the meat in. One man carried the head and hide, which alone weighed 111 pounds.
Because we had packed the meat out we could not get a true weight, but the Pennsylvania Game Commission and a world famous taxidermist estimated that the bear had weighed well over 500 pounds. The skull measurements added up to 20-5/8", which made it number thirty-seven in the Pennsylvania record book.
The moral of the story, of course, is that persistence pays off. The name of my bear hunting crew is Echo Lodge Bear Crew. I started the crew in 1992 and to this date we have harvested 18 bears. We are located in Clinton County, Pennsylvania.