Nov 16 2014
By Clay Newcomb
November’s Polar Vortex had hit and it was cold for Arkansas. The high temperature was in the mid-thirties and the wind was stiff. On November 12th I hunted in the National Forest in Arkansas’ Zone 2 for black bear and whitetail. In my opinion, hunting in the eastern deciduous forest, spot & stalk, is one of the toughest black bear hunts in North America (and deer for that matter). Rugged mountains, low visibility and low population densities are what make it so.
I woke up a 3:30 a.m. and drove two-and-a-half hours to reach my hunting area on public land just before daylight. By the time I could see to shoot I was in the woods. I had a few destinations in mind, but I was primarily slip hunting – slowly moving along, grunting for whitetails and scanning for anything black. I was headed to a high saddle, a finger ridge and a section of mountaintop that usually holds some deer. Everything in between these places I would be scanning for sign and hunting as I moved. My favorite time to hunt these bears is in mid-to-late November. Typically, the leaves are gone and black bears stand out good against the reddish grey landscape.
For me this was a combo hunt, as I would have shot a nice buck if the opportunity arose. This is what I really enjoy about this type of hunting. If you read my article “32 Miles” in the September/October issue of Bear Hunting Magazine you’d have a better scope of the challenge in tow for anyone hunting bear or deer in the rugged Ouachita Mountains. Deer densities are low. I actually saw more bear last year in five days of hunting than I did whitetails (this was unusual).
As for clothing, I was layered well with my First Lite 100% Merino wool under layers, Kanab pants and Uncompraghe Puffy jacket. Wool is the only way to go for active hunting. Several times I broke a sweat on the steep climbs, but didn’t get cold afterwards. The wool wicks moisture away from the skin and seems to dry quickly while still insulating. I also really like the new Fusion camo for hunting in our type of terrain.
I choose to carry a gun that I bought for my children – a Mossberg youth model .243. Some might think this would be underpowered for bear, but a well placed 85-grain bullet flying over 3,000-feet per second is more than enough to take down the largest black bear on the planet. Also, the gun is short, light and delightful to carry. I’m not a big guy and the stock is a little short, but not bad.
I started finding some bear sign the closer I got to the top of the mountain. Over the course of the day I found close to 20 piles of bear scat, both old and new. It was difficult to tell how fresh because it was all frozen solid. Some was clearly quite old. When I’m hunting this late in the year fresh scat is el primo sign. Bears don’t range far this late and they are probably close.
I also found a good concentration of white oak acorns in the upper portions of the mountains. I cracked open a few to make sure they were still good – they were. I also found a little buck sign to boot.
I spent several hours of the day sitting, but I spent a good part of the time walking and scouting. In 12 hours of being in the woods I only saw one grey squirrel – no bear or deer. The mountains can seem like wildlife deserts sometimes, but this is the intrigue of this type of hunting. It’s very difficult. I love to hunt bears over bait and the surety of seeing a bear is strong. The opposite side of the pendulum is a hunt like this. You can hunt for days and not see a game animal.
In hunting, the journey is as significant as the destination. My goal is always to kill something and I don’t like making excuses when I don’t. However, the satisfaction of taking an animal on public land in the mountains is significant and means more to me than most all of my other trophies. The mountains hold an intrigue that I love. I plan to go back this week. Look for an update next Monday.
*My friend Scott Brown of Mena, Arkansas traveled to Alaska to hunt Brown Bear with me back in August. Scott was able to take this mountain brute on November 15th in a secluded gap on public land in Arkansas. This is the kind of place you can sit for days and not see game. The buck weighed upwards of 190-pounds – a giant buck for Polk County. When it comes together on a hunt like this it’s special. Congrats, Scott.