WILLIAMSPORT - Similar to the Penn State and Michigan State football teams playing for the Land Grant Trophy at the end of each Big Ten season, commissioners in Lycoming and Clinton counties will compete for rights to a bear hunting prize.
A friendly competition was announced Wednesday when the new trophy was unveiled at the Sharwell Building, 200 East St., during a joinder board meeting between the two counties.
Edging Clinton County by a mere bear, the inaugural year winner is Lycoming County with 153 bears harvested on Nov. 23, the first day of the rifle season.
Commissioners from Lycoming and Clinton counties gathered Wednesday for the first of what will become an annual award event recognizing the county with the biggest bear harvest on the first day of bear hunting season. Lycoming and Clinton counties have been the counties with the largest bear harvests over the years. Above from left, Clinton Commissioners Tom Bossert, Joel Long and Adam Coleman present the trophy to Lycoming Commissioners Rebecca Burke, Ernie Larson and Jeff Wheeland. On Nov. 23, hunters harvested 153 bears from woods in Lycoming County.
The commissioners decided there's consistency in giving the trophy to the county with the highest first day total.
"At different times, the state can change the season," Lycoming County Commissioner Rebecca Burke said. "There is a constant in it being the first day."
The two counties usually duke it out for highest statewide bear harvest totals, according to state Game Commission northcentral region spokesman Rick Macklem.
He remembers being a wildlife conservation field officer years ago when officers between the two counties had a similar bear hunting competition.
Macklem said, "When I used to write-up the pre-season forecasts, I used to say, 'This will be the year Lycoming will be number one again,' and the WCOs over in Clinton County used to say the same thing."
"We sort of had a lot of fun with it," Macklem said of the drive to be on top.
The commissioners had the same good-natured attitude Wednesday as they light-heartedly staked their claims to the title while sharing a few chuckles.
"My personal opinion is Lycoming County is seeing the last of this bear," Clinton County Commissioner Tom Bossert said of the trophy the commissioners personally paid for.
"We're very confident of Lycoming County retaining the trophy," Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said. "Unless Commissioner Bossert and his hunting club take our black bears and bring them over the (county) border."
Many residents hunt for recreation, but Bossert reminded that hunters buying supplies at local businesses is vital to the local economy.
"We see great opportunities for our counties on the subject of the Pennsylvania Wilds," Bossert said. "It's a way for mom and pop shops to earn a living."
There's plenty of reason for bear hunters to try the two counties, as Macklem said they are almost always number one and two in harvest totals.
The only exception he can recall is the 2008 season when Potter and Tioga bested all other counties.
That year, Macklem said there was a strong mast crop in the northern tier counties, attracting bears north for acorns and other food.
Clinton and Lycoming once again led all other counties in the 2009 season preliminary totals, which Macklem said will soon be confirmed with final counts.
Combining the archery, regular rifle and extended season that ended Dec. 5, game commission data shows Clinton County finished first in the state with 294 bears, 14 better than Lycoming County, which won the state's figurative silver medal.
More bears are traditionally harvested on the first day of November's regular rifle season than any other single day.
There weren't quite enough bears bagged to match the state's one-year record of 4,164 set in 2005, but the 2009 preliminary total is 3,499, good enough for second-place all-time.
Hunters around the area will help determine where the traveling bear trophy goes next year, which Wheeland said will temporarily rest in the trophy case on the first floor of the Executive Plaza, 330 Pine St.