Oklahoma's first black bear season off to good start
Three firsts came Oct. 1 for Nashoba bowhunter Joe Russell when he became the first Oklahoma hunter to harvest a black bear on the first day of Oklahoma's first inaugural bear archery season.
Russell checked in his bear with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation on opening morning shortly after harvesting the bear on a private hunting lease in Pushmataha County. The healthy female black bear weighed 170 lbs. field dressed. Wildlife Department biologists collected measurements and other data on the bear, such as a tooth that will be used to determine the bear's age.
Russell had been baiting the area for about a month using corn, grease from an area café and sardines. Because bear activity is sometimes difficult to pattern, baiting is a popular and effective way to hunt bears, and Oklahoma bear hunters are permitted to use bait on private land.
“They're pretty elusive,” Russell said.
Having lived in the area and hunted all his life, Russell has seen several bears throughout the years, and said he appreciated the opportunity to hunt them. He had no previous experience hunting black bears, but avidly hunts deer, turkeys and feral hogs.
Biologists with the Wildlife Department have collected more than 15 years of biological data and information from responding to nuisance bear calls, and the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit with Oklahoma State University has conducted additional research projects for the Wildlife Department. Data and research results show that Oklahoma is an ideal state for hosting a limited bear season to address nuisance bear issues while creating new opportunities for sportsmen.
Though black bears have a growing population in southeast Oklahoma and are an important part of the state's wildlife diversity today, the future hasn't always looked so bright for black bears. Once ranging across North America, including the entire area of what is now Oklahoma, sightings had become rare by the early 1900s. Factors like urban development, 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. Viewed as one of the most successful reintroductions of large carnivores in the world, this successful reestablishment of black bears led to a renewed black bear hunting season in Arkansas in 1980.
Bear hunting in Oklahoma also secures future funds for bear conservation efforts, since the Wildlife Department is funded primarily by sportsmen through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses and federal excise taxes on sporting goods.
Along with Russell's black bear, 13 additional bears have been harvested this season in the four-county hunt area of Latimer, LeFlore, Pushmataha and McCurtain counties. The bear archery season will run through Oct. 23 or until the season quota of 20 bears has been met. If the season quota is not met during bear archery season, black bear muzzleloader season will open Oct. 24 and run through Nov. 1 or until the season quota is met. Hunters must check by phone or online at wildlifedepartment.com before hunting each day to see if the quota has been reached. Once the quota of 20 bears is reached, the season will close. The use of dogs is prohibited, and baiting is prohibited on wildlife management areas.
To learn more about wildlife in Oklahoma, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.