James Lawrence Arkansas

James Lawrence of Shady, Arkansas with a beautiful opening day Arkansas, Zone 2, black bear. 

The Arkansas bear hunt has come in strong in 2015. Two days into the season, they’ve check about 215 bears total for both Zones 1 and 2. James (my bear hunting buddy) and I had a good start, but not as strong as we’d hoped for. James did great by taking a bear that we estimated to weigh 280 to 300 pounds. I’m kicking myself in the rear for leaving my scales at home, but I did, and we couldn’t weigh the bear.

            When it came right down to time to hunt, we really only had one bait that was cranking hard with daytime, shooter bears. The other baits had been covered up with shooter bears earlier in the week, but they gradually started to fade the closer we got to September 26th. By the time we hunted, I was sitting on baits that hadn’t had shooters on them in the daylight in a few days. Welcome to Arkansas bear hunting.

Oklahoma bear

An old warrior that my buddy Ryan Greb has named “Chief” showed up this week. He’s one of the most impressive bears I’ve seen in terms of skull size and character. Half of his nose is missing and he’s got notched ears. The bear is clearly very old. Bears add bone mass to their skulls as they age, though most potential is reached genetically by the time they become mature at around 6 – 7 years old.

            I can’t complain, and James may have been upset with me, but I passed a 225 to 250 pound boar on opening morning. We had two other bears that were bigger, and one that was an absolute toad (500-plus) on the bait, so I wasn’t going to burn a tag on the first morning. I sat the next two days without seeing a bear in the daylight. On day two, I did spook a bear that came in after dark when I was getting down. It was well past shooting light, but I could see his silhouette as he trotted off when he heard me fumbling my gear – not a good feeling.

            That being said, I plan to do some more hunting over bait in Arkansas this week. Sometimes after the bears initially leave for acorns, they’ll swing back through in a few days and lock back on the bait for a short time. Hopefully, I will catch a good one on pattern again. If I don’t kill one over bait, I will set out in my National Forest Quest again this year. Very few people kill bears on purpose in the National Forest in Arkansas – very few. Deer hunters bump into them and kill them, but not many people set out to hunt them like deer. I believe it is the most challenging big-game hunt in Arkansas. I took a big bear in the National Forest in 2013, and it’s ruined me. For some reason I love hunting for days without seeing game, or any sign of game. If you hunt the big woods expect a lot of failure before you find success. Build’s character? I think so. Sometimes as hunters we’ve become addicted to the need to see game every sit. I’m guilty, but hunting the mountains will break you of that!

bear

A beautiful cinnamon sow with a blonde face. Amazing bear.

            I am looking forward to the opening of the Oklahoma bear season on Thursday, October 1st. As of September 27th, I still had some phenomenal bears responding to bait in the Sooner State. I will check cameras, and rebait on Wednesday, then hunt Thursday. I’m after a big one in Oklahoma. We’ll see if they stick around, and if I can make it happen.

            Bears are finicky when you start hunting them over bait. All it takes is one negative experience they will leave and never come back (or go nocturnal). Since last week my baits have decreased in activity by 50%. The bears are dropping off like flies. The question is will they hold until Thursday? I’m sure some will, but I’m after a big one, and there is a never a guarantee that a shooter will be the one that remains.

            I’m learning that hunting exclusively for big Ouachita Mountains bears is tough….well, I already knew that. If I was just trying to kill a nice bear that would be one thing, but I’m after a 400-pound plus type bear – not an easy tag to fill. My standards may drop quickly if I the big bears become unkillable, but I will eat a tag before I shoot a small bear.

            James and I will both be hunting Oklahoma. His success is my success, and I hope we can both be successful. Look for an update from me after the hunt. I will be filming for an episode of Bear Horizon that you’ll be able to watch whether we are successful or not.

Subscribe to Bear Hunting Magazine, the nations only all bear hunting print magazine!

  

By Clay Newcomb

Publisher Bear Hunting Magazine

I can hardly sleep and I’m borderline giddy as I go about my daily routine here at the Bear Hunting Magazine global office. It’s September 4th and I just checked my trail cameras for the first time since I put out bait on August 31st. People who’ve never baited bear probably don’t understand the excitement, but being able to interact with such a reclusive animal through baiting is an amazing experience. I consider September to be my month with the bears. What an awesome thing?

Big Woods Bear Bait

The author and his father drove to Wisconsin from Arkansas to get a big load of bear bait from Big Woods Bear Bait - Floyd and Linda Gasser.

What’s even more spectacular is how well bear in Arkansas and southeast Oklahoma are doing. Conservation through hunting is an ingenious solution to utilizing and actually helping our renewalable wildlife resources. People who don’t support hunting are choosing to look away from the facts of conservation through hunting. Quota systems and regulated hunting seasons protect bears from overharvest while making populations stronger.  Bear hunting is a scientific and necessary management tool for large carnivores all over North America.

Bear Hunting Magazine

Big bear on bait just days after putting out bait in the Ouachitas.

Bear-baiting comrades, James Lawrence and my father (Gary), and myself have seven baits out in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The last five years we’ve guided an auction hunt to raise money for the Arkansas Black Bear Association (www.arbear.org).  Essentially we’ve given our number one spot in Arkansas to the auction winners and have had a blast doing it. However, I knew that in 2015 something needed to change. After last season, I told James, “Next year is our year to hunt.” He agreed.

Hunting the Ouachita Mountains in late September is no chip shot. Acorns begin to fall and muscadines ripen in the latter half of September and big bears are extremely hard to hold until the season opener. This can be a heart-breaking hunt after spending tremendous amounts of energy baiting bears, only to have your target bear leave two days before season. It happens more often than it doesn’t.

Bear Hunting Magazine

A second mature boar on the same bait in the Ouachitas. 

This year I traveled Wisconsin to Big Woods Bear Bait to buy bait. I’m hoping that this will be a game-changer in terms of holding big bears. Typically, I use bread, donuts, dogfood and grease as my primary bait. This year we’ve got cookies, frosting, gummy candy, pie filling and kettlecorn. Will increasing the quality of bait hold them longer? We’ll see. I think the answer is yes, but these acorn-loving Ouachita bears are hard to predict. Floyd and Linda Gasser of Big Woods are great folks that love bear hunting more than just about anybody I know.

I’ve included a few of the good bears that we’ve already got on camera. It’s hard to speculate weight on these bears, but they are both as tall as the barrel and shooters in my book. One of my baits we have five adult bears and two cubs (seven total) after just five days. Another bait has multiple sows with cubs. One of the sites was hit within four hours of putting out bait. The other was hit with 18 hours. You know you’re in good bear country when they show up so fast. That’s usually the sign of a good bait site.  

*The Sept/Oct issue of Bear Hunting Magazine is out on Newstands and in the hands of subscribers as we speak. We had a very diverse issue that covered Kodiak brown bear hunting all the way to hunting with Plott hounds in the mountains of West Virginia. Bear hunting is an extremely diverse sport and it’s critical that as bear hunters, no matter the method, that we stick together. Good hunting this fall and look for more updates from me throughout the fall season.