Frye: State bears are record-worthy
Pennsylvania can lay claim to having more than just some of the fattest black bears in the world. It’s got some of the biggest record-wise, too.
The Boone & Crockett Club ranks bears based on skull size. Adding the length of the skull without the lower jaw to the width, in inches, provides a final score.
The all-time biggest black bear didn’t fall to a hunter. The animal, whose skull scored 2310/16, was found dead in Utah in 1975.
Other than that, five of the top 10 bears in the record book, 12 of the top 25, 18 of the top 50 and 29 of the top 100, including the No. 2 bear (the largest taken by a hunter).
That second-ranked bear was killed in 2011. East Stroudsburg hunter Robert Christian took it in Monroe County while hunting deer. It was just the second bear he’d ever seen in the woods. He told Outdoor Life the first was a cub he’d eyed a decade before; it scored 23 9⁄16.
The third-ranked bear was found dead in Pennsylvania’s Lycoming County in 1987 and scored 23 7⁄8.
Pennsylvania also can claim the Nos. 7, 8, and 9 bears. They came from Fayette, Monroe and Bedford counties, respectively, and were all taken by hunters.
Beyond that, there are several things worth noting about the state’s showing in the record book.
First, it’s not just at the top where Pennsylvania ranks well.
According to figures provided by Boone & Crockett spokesman Steve Wagner, there are more than 3,100 black bears in the club’s record book, hailing from 43 states or provinces. Wisconsin has accounted for more of those than anywhere else with 580 entries.
But Pennsylvania ranks second with 297, ahead of Alaska (222), Saskatchewan (217) and Manitoba (159).
Second, Pennsylvania is in its heyday. Sixty-six percent of the state’s bears in the book were harvested in 2000 or later. Fifty-six percent of those in the top 50 — 10 of 18 — were taken in 2003 or later.
Third, while the counties most likely to give up big-bodied bears also give up a lot of record-book bears, they don’t account for them all. Forty-six Pennsylvania counties have put at least one bear in the book since 2000.
Bradford County leads with 20. Tioga is second with 15, followed by Lycoming (14), Pike (12) and Sullivan (10). But Indiana County has accounted for five, Armstrong and Westmoreland three each, Cambria, Crawford and Fayette two each and Somerset one.
That’s not surprising, said the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s big game records program coordinator, Bob D’Angelo, who is an official Boone and Crockett scorer, too. He noted that “sometimes a real heavy bear … might not have a big skull.”
It often comes down to food, said the commission’s bear biologist, Mark Ternent. A bear too young to have a massive skull can weigh more than an old, trophy-class animal if it has been eating better. That means all of us, wherever we hunt, can legitimately hope for a trophy.
“It sounds like record skull bears are just more widely distributed throughout the population, like you’d expect them to be. They can and do come from all over,” Ternent said.