Colton Babcock admitted to shivering while in the woods for Saturday’s bear season opener, but it wasn’t because of the cold.
Babcock, 16, shot his first bear while hunting with friends and family in Fairmount Township in a hunt that turned out to be one he will remember for a lifetime.
“We were doing a drive and it came out and I knew it was big,” Babcock said. “I got excited right when I saw it, and then after I made the shot I was still shaking out of excitement a half-hour later.”
Babcock’s bear – a male, had an estimated live weight of 226-pounds and was the 25th bear brought in to the check station at Dallas in the afternoon.
Cool, but not frigid, temperatures and sunny skies resulted in both a high hunter turnout locally for the bear season opener and a busy day at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northeast Region Office as hunters brought bruins in throughout the day.
Hunters brought 63 bears to the Dallas check station on Saturday, compared to 50 brought in on the first day last year. On average, 51 bears are brought to the Dallas check station on the first day. The largest bear weighed 345 pounds field dressed, and had a live weight of 402 pounds.
“All day the numbers have been right on track with previous years at this check station,” PGC biologist Kevin Wenner said. “The weather was nearly perfect and all that was missing was a tracking snow. Still, it kept hunters out there and they were moving the bears around.”
Most of the bears brought to the Dallas check station are taken in the northern part of Luzerne County and above, from areas such as State Game Lands 57 and 13, Ricketts Glen State Park and Red Rock. Bears were also brought in from southern Luzerne County and counties below, such as Schuylkill.
Wildlife Conservation Officer Phil White, whose district includes part of Luzerne County, said hunter numbers were strong on Saturday and many were seeing bruins.
“One hunter told me he saw seven in the Bear Creek area while hunting by himself,” White said. “The weather is terrific and that has a lot to do with the harvest and hunter turnout.”
While White spent the day checking hunters and bears throughout his district, he also encountered several violations pertaining to hunters carrying loaded firearms on their ATVs.
Another hunter who bagged a bear in Schuylkill County was issued a replacement tag because the bruin was unfit for consumption. Wenner said the bear had a “Do not eat” tag in its ear, and when he checked the number against PGC records it was determined that the bear was tranquilized by PGC staff on Nov. 6.
“In order for the bear to be fit for consumption, 30 days is needed from the time it was tranquilized so the drugs are out of its system,” Wenner said.
Steve Germick brought in a bear he shot in northern Luzerne County in the morning and said there’s no shortage of bruins in the area. The weather, Germick said, was cool yet mild enough to keep bears active during the day.
“I think bear numbers are increasing in our area,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more every year.”
Babcock was one of several hunters to harvest their first bear in the area on Saturday. Hazleton resident Tyler Pfeil shot his first bear, a 141-pound male, in Lake Township.
“I was surprised because it was the first time I saw a bear in the woods,” he said. “I’m going to get it mounted.”
While harvesting a bear was a memorable experience for many lucky hunters on Saturday, for some it was the beginning of an arduous task just to get the animal out of the woods.
Mike Barber of Noxen shot his first bear deep in SGL 57 on Saturday morning. Barber was hunting by himself and said it took him four hours to drag the 151-pound female bear a mile out of the woods.
“I didn’t see any other hunters because I was so far back,” Barber said. “It was rough terrain, but I knew there were bears back there.”
The next time Barber has to drag a bear out of the woods he hopes it will be for his 4-year-old daughter, Faith, who accompanied her dad to the check station.
“She loves hunting and the entire process,” he said. “I look forward to when my daughter is older and she can go with me. That will make hunting even more enjoyable.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky