The unpredictable element of hunting is what keeps many of us heading into the woods and fields year after year.
The chance to see a large buck, a big bear or just something unique can happen at any moment. And no matter how many years you hunt, there’s always a chance to experience something new.
Even better, just when you think you’ve had a day afield that can never be topped, it can.
That’s what happened to Mountain Top resident Ed Tomko during the first day of the rifle deer season in December.
Tomko was hunting on his property in Wilmot Township, Bradford County, hoping to see one of the large bucks that he had captured on his trail cameras during the fall.
Adding to the excitement was the chance to harvest a bear, as the season for bruins was also open in Tomko’s area.
Tomko didn’t see a deer on the opening day, but as far as bears, well, that was another story.
“I really wasn’t expecting to see a bear because I hunted the archery season, and all of bear season, and didn’t see a thing,” he said.
That changed on opening day, Dec. 2, when Tomko, who was sitting in his treestand overlooking a thick swamp, heard shots.
Ten minutes later, a large bruin — Tomko estimates that it topped 500 pounds — charged into the swamp.
Waiting for the bear to cross one of the shooting lanes he had cleared, Tomko raised his rifle and fired when the bruin entered the opening.
It kept going, but soon ran across another opening and Tomko fired again.
Even with snow on the ground, Tomko said there was no blood nor evidence that he had connected.
That was bear number one.
After a noon-time break at his camp for lunch, Tomko hit the woods again and got back into his stand.
He saw two more bears but couldn’t connect.
Still, his bear sightings rose to three on the day, and there was more to come.
Later in the afternoon, Tomko relocated to a different stand at the top of a hill to finish out the day.
It didn’t take long before he saw the fourth bear of a the day — a cub.
Seconds later, bear number five appeared — a sow that was the cub’s mother.
And right behind it were bears six, seven and eight.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw those three cubs behind her,” Tomko said. “With the first cub, this sow had four cubs with her.”
Tomko let the mother and her brood go on their way.
As he watched them disappear into the woods, bear number nine appeared following the same trail as the previous four.
This time, Tomko raised his rifle and connected.
The bear was a female with an estimated live weight of 287 pounds.
Tomko was thrilled with the harvest, but he admitted it took a backseat to the overall experience of the day.
“Just to see one bear when you’re hunting, you’re happy with that,” he said. “But to see nine, including six together was unbelievable.
“In all my seasons put together, this day is at the top. Actually getting a bear wasn’t anything compared to seeing nine in one day.”
What makes Tomko’s day even more remarkable is that the county where he was hunting — Bradford — really isn’t considered a top bear county. Last season, hunters harvested 2,489 bears statewide during the three-day rifle season. Bradford County accounted for 27 of them, yet Tomko saw nine on one day.
Tomko’s experience is proof that you really never know what’s going to happen when you head into the woods for a day of hunting.
Sure, hours of scouting and constant monitoring via trail cameras may give us a pretty good idea of what to expect, but it doesn’t tell the entire story of what’s to come.
And that is exactly what keeps hunting exciting. Just ask Tomko, who put in 60 years of hunting and thought he had seen it all — until he climbed into his treestand on the opening day of last year’s deer season.