Mar 13 2019
By Clay Newcomb
1965 was an epic year for many reasons. The national headlines buzzed with the news that Lyndon Johnson had been reelected as the president of the United States, and the death of Winston Churchill was only overshadowed in the news when the first US combat troops arrived in Vietnam. Back in Arkansas life went on as usual and when November arrived hunting traditions continued as they always had. Unknown to few in the world, Ora Lee Provence, (often called Oree) from rural Crawford County, Arkansas had a phenomenal year hunting public land in the Ozarks that will likely never be topped in terms of number of inches in a single year for this region. In 2019, Ora is now 91-years old and he recently sat down for a podcast with me.
Back in those days only neighbors and kinfolk would have heard of Ora’s incredible deer season. The rural Ozarks in the 1960s had little communication technology available, and anthropologists have noted the region was geographically and culturally isolated through the 1970s. With limited highway or interstate infrastructure, the interior of the Ozarks was just hard to get to – and still is. Electricity didn’t reach Ora’s home until 1948, and they still don’t have rural water to this day. Only in the 1970s did they get telephone service, before that Ora said, “Neighbors communicated with each other through CB radios.”
The Provence name has a longstanding history with these mountains. Ora still has the original deed to an 80-acre tract of land that his great-grandfather got from the United States government when the land could be bought for penny’s an acre in the mid 1800s. Ora was born in 1927 in the hollow he still lives in and has never lived anywhere else. All these years he’s managed to forge a living out of the mountains, only having to get a job “in town” for a short period in 1954. Ora and his brother owned and ran a sawmill for years, cutting and sawing railroad ties. He also farmed chickens for 43 years.
On this episode of the Bear Hunting Magazine podcast Ora tells many stories about his life growing up in the Ozarks and his first introductions to hunting. He tells the story of how he was drafted in the United State military and barely missed going overseas to fight in World War Two because a of 10-acre patch of tomatoes. He also tells the story of his incredible year of deer hunting in 1965 when he killed two giant non-typical bucks scoring 165” and 186” respectively (gross). This region has a lot of limestone bluffs and Ora liked to “slip hunt” the tops of the bluffs looking down on the bench below for bucks. “The deer can’t smell you when you’re above them,” he said.
In the 1950s the region Ora lives in was part of the reintroduction of Arkansas black bears. Regionally extirpated out of the mountains of Arkansas, black bears were reintroduced in three strategic locations that biologists felt would be good habitat for bears. These areas represented the most rugged and biggest blocks of unfragmented habitat in Arkansas. The episode of the Bear Hunting Magazine podcast, titled “Old Mountain Hunter: Ora Provence” is a must-listen for anyone who loves the outdoors and hunting.