Big bucks, bulls and bears
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, September 20, 2008.)
Ten years ago we thought our Pennsylvania bucks tended to be smallish. Twenty years ago we never would have thought of hunting trophy elk here at home. Thirty years ago we were just beginning to realize we had some big, big bears.
Pennsylvania’s top black bear is bigger than most grizzlies.
Hunting has changed in Pennsylvania, and no one should doubt that the Keystone State can produce animals that are very respectable entries in the Boone and Crockett Club record book. The evidence was on display at a September 6 banquet in Carlisle, PA., where the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association teamed up to recognize some world-class bucks, bulls and bears.
A caveat is in order, however. Pennsylvania will never be an easy place to put a buck into the record books, and the PGC cannot make Pennsylvania a “trophy state” for whitetails on par with Ohio, Illinois or Iowa. That’s just not going to happen here -- for many reasons.
But Penn’s Woods is home to some dandy, head-turning trophies that score well in the Boone and Crockett scoring system. For deer, that’s a cumulative sum in inches, adding spread, main beam lengths, tine lengths and circumferences together, then subtracting deductions for asymmetry.
Recording the scores of Pennsylvania’s top big game animals began in 1965. I vaguely remember it because my dad had a modest 10-point he took in 1959 that was impressive to my young eyes, so I thought he should have it scored.
It might have been the buck of a lifetime in 1959, but today it’s perhaps a little better than average -- dwarfed by the giant 12-point typical buck taken on November 12, 2004 in Allegheny County by Michael Nicola, Sr., age 52 of Pittsburgh. That deer had a score of 178 2/8". It’s Pennsylvania’s all-time number one typical buck taken with archery gear. (For comparison, the world record typical whitetail came from Saskatchewan, with 213-5/16 inches of antler.)
Pennsylvania’s number one non-typical buck in the archery category was also taken in Allegheny County, by Gerald Simkonis on November 2, 2007. With 36 points at least 1" in length (not counting about 20 more that were a tad shorter), its score is a whopping 209-1/8". Simkonis hunted that buck continuously for three years, but saw it for the first time when he released the arrow that killed it.
How did these bucks get so big? The main reason is they reached maturity. A whitetail buck exhibits the genetic potential of his antlers only when his skeletal system is fully mature, which takes 4½ years or more.
Two state record elk were also honored. In the typical class taken by gun, a bull harvested in 2003 by Edward Polashenski of Drums, PA had a score of 364-5/16". He bagged it in Elk County. The new top non-typical elk taken with a gun scored 425-2/16". It was harvested in Clinton County in 2006 by John Shirk of Goodville, PA. Pennsylvania’s elk herd is closely monitored, and elk hunters are chosen by lottery.
Last, but definitely not least, is one of the all-time greatest black bears anywhere, taken on State Game Lands Number 51 in Fayette County in 2005. Bears don’t have antlers to measure, so the record book ranks them by the combined length and width of their skulls. Andrew Seman, Jr., of Dunbar, took the world’s number one bear ever legally killed by a hunter (it’s actually tied with one from California), with a skull that measures 23-3/16". That’s bigger than most grizzly bears!
Seman’s bear was 15 years old and estimated to have a live weight of 733 pounds. It’s memorialized by a full body mount, standing upright, and comes within inches of an 8-foot ceiling. Its skull is just as impressive, with lots of broken teeth a sign of the rugged life that bear lived.
More than 400 Pennsylvania black bears on record have been eligible for the Boone and Crockett record book. So, if you’re looking for a world-class trophy from Pennsylvania, you might set your sights on a Pennsylvania bear. Bears that rival Seman’s monster are definitely out there, and maybe one that’s bigger.