In an unprecedented and unexpected turn of events, Oklahoma black bear archery season opened and closed in one day when hunters reached the quota of 20 bears Oct. 1 in southeast Oklahoma.
A total of 32 black bears were harvested Oct. 1, which is 13 more than were harvested in about a month’s time last year.
“The weather was perfect for hunting and sportsmen worked hard leading up to the season, and it culminated in an outstanding day of bear hunting in Oklahoma,” said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“We had a very conservative bear quota, and when we planned the regulations for the season, we took into account the possibility of exceeding the harvest quota slightly,” Hemphill said. “The harvest of 32 bears is a great sign that we are doing things right in Oklahoma, since the presence of bears in an environment is considered an indicator of good habitat.”
With more days to hunt, state wildlife officials thought hunters would be more selective and pass on smaller bears and wait for a chance on a bigger animal.
“I'm not sure it worked for us as well as we thought it would,” said Hemphill.
Hunters were still eager to take bears because they had quit seeing them, especially big bears, on trail cameras in the week before the season opened, Hemphill said.
“They assumed the big bears had left and only the smaller ones were still around the bait,” he said.
Through Thursday, more than 40 bears had been checked in. Most of the bears were killed in Le Flore County, but more bears were killed in Latimer and McCurtain counties than past years, Hemphill said.
Pushmataha County is the only other county where bear hunting is allowed.
Most of the bears taken by hunters ranged between 125 and 200 pounds, but the biggest was 465 pounds, Hemphill said.
According to Hemphill, biologists have seen two extremes in the two years since bear season was inaugurated in Oklahoma, with only 19 bears harvested in 28 days in 2009 and 32 harvested in just one day in 2010. Weather and environmental conditions also were starkly different during each of the two seasons. The 2009 season opened with thunder and lightning and a plentiful acorn crop, whereas the 2010 opener was marked with mild weather and few acorns to be found. As with hunting seasons on all species, Department personnel review all available data following the season and work to provide optimum hunting opportunities.
Though black bear archery season draws fewer hunters than other species (177 resident bear licenses purchased for the 2010 season), the season includes both hard work and excitement for those who participate. Many hunters spend weeks leading up the bear season scouting, maintaining bait stations on private lands, and practicing archery. Counties open to black bear hunting during the archery season are Latimer, LeFlore, Pushmataha and McCurtain counties — all in the mountainous region of southeast Oklahoma.
Black bears once ranged across North America, including the entire area of what is now Oklahoma, but by the early 1900s, sightings had become rare. Factors like land use changes, unregulated hunting and habitat fragmentation caused black bear numbers to eventually decline drastically.
In the late 1900s, however, black bears began making a comeback in Oklahoma after the successful reintroduction of black bears in the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. That initial relocation of about 250 bears from northern Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada, turned into thousands of bears in the mountains of Arkansas, which then expanded into southwest Missouri and eastern Oklahoma.
This successful reestablishment of black bears led to a renewed black bear hunting season in Arkansas in 1980.
“I had no idea the season would open and close so quickly, but I am glad I took advantage of the opportunity,” said Nels Rodefeld, information and education chief for the Wildlife Department and one of the successful hunters who harvested a bear on Friday. “Sportsmen in Oklahoma are so fortunate to have such a broad diversity of game to hunt.”
Even though bear season is now closed, there are still so many opportunities to hunt and so many game species to choose from.”
Seasons such as deer archery, turkey archery, dove, rabbit and squirrel are currently open, with several other seasons ranging from deer gun, pheasant and quail still to open before the year ends.
For more information about black bear hunting in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.