Gene Collier: More unbearable news in Pennsylvania's oldest rivalry

By Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There was a time when this column annually engaged in a satiric rant about bear-hunting season, in which the conceit was that Bears vs. Hunters might be a more palatable and accessible event were it viewed as a football game.

I had no sense whatsoever of the extent to which that one-joke exercise had seeped into certain more specialized areas of the culture, such as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, at least until I was provided a recent release from that august body headlined:

STATEWIDE BEAR SEASONS KICK OFF OCT. 16.

Oh, no. See? Now they're doing it.

It remains highly doubtful either team will literally tee it up Saturday for the annual renewal of the oldest rivalry in the history of the biosphere, but if there were a kickoff, I know exactly how it would go.

The Bears would win the coin toss (the only thing they ever win) and defer their choice until the second half, mostly because they don't know what the hell is going on. What the Steelers' excuse is for doing this exact thing I've never even bothered to ask.

Note to Bears: Take the ball. About 4,000 of you are going to be killed over the next six weeks, but at least you'll have the ball. Make 'em pry it from your cold, dead claws.

The more infuriating part of the Game Commission headline is that start date, Oct. 16, still another instance in which the hunters have successfully expanded the season with no input from the Bears, which I'm pretty sure aren't even notified. So in the same autumn the NFL season expanded to an unconscionable 17 games, Pennsylvania's authorities saw fit to expand the laughably one-sided Bears vs. Hunters season (once a three-day affair in November) all the way to Oct. 16 on one end and clear into the deer season on the other.

"As in the past," the release states, "Many Wildlife Management Units will allow bear hunting during the first — and in some units, even the second — week of the statewide firearms deer season. Unlike last year, when bears didn't become legal game until the first Monday, hunters in 2021 will be able to harvest them on the opening weekend, both Saturday and Sunday."

Well, bully.

No wonder the rest of the release is peppered with cheery observations like "the potential is there again for another great season" and "it's an exciting time to be a bear hunter."

If Bears had bulletin boards, this stuff would be up there.

For the moment, the Bears are probably still trying to install their state-of-the-forest spread offense, which, so far, is just another gambit that's getting them killed. The Game Commission has reported in the past that Bear densities rarely exceed one per square mile, so I suggest they fire new offensive coordinator Matt Canabear and try a little bunch right, bunch left, or mix in a fullback now and again. What could go wrong?

The ageless issue is roster size. There are about 16,000 Bears in the Pennsylvania woods, but for this extended affair, they'll be confronted by something like 200,000 Hunters. The Hunters never rebuild; they reload. Last year, the Bears lost, 3,608-0 — 3,608 being the official "harvest." The year before it was 4,653-0, the worst Bears performance on record.

Thus was I mildly encouraged to read last week of a Bears contest in Alaska that the Bears — or at least one of them — actually wins. Though it's more like an election than a competition, Fat Bear Week concludes when online voters select their favorite Bear as it preps for hibernation by feasting in the salmon-rich waters of Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.

According to The Washington Post, it's not always the fattest Bear that wins Fat Bear Week. It's just as likely to be Otis, as it was this time, because he's one of the older bruins and his dedicated Facebook fans, watching him diligently on the park's webcams, are enraptured with his "shenanigans."

Ain't no shenanigans like bear shenanigans.

Last year's winner, known as Bear Force One to his fans, weighed in at 1,400 pounds, or about twice the largest bear ever "harvested" in Pennsylvania. In Alaska's game, the Bears are matched against each other in a March Madness-style bracket, a tournament that somehow goes off without any of them getting designated a Cinderella. Goldilocks probably wants to be in on the action, but we can do without that as well.

In any event, Pennsylvania's Hunters are again the prohibitive favorites this year, but for them we have just two reminders.

You're encouraged to use a stick to prop open the Bear's mouth soon after "harvest" and before the jaw stiffens. That allows agency staff to remove a tooth, used to determine the Bear's age. (For best results, make sure the Bear is dead.)

Also, as ever, it's one Bear to a customer.

I really hope that no liberties are taken with that second rule, but we must rely on the public's help. So if you see one of those big seven-passenger, off-road SUVs rolling down your street and six of the passengers are in fur coats ... I mean, if you see something, say something.

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