May 01 2014
By Al Raychard
Hunting Methods: Baiting is allowed on private lands, but prohibited on public lands. The use of hounds is prohibited.
Bag Limit: One bear. The killing of females with cubs is prohibited.
Legal Hunting Areas: Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha Counties ONLY
Estimated Bear Population: 2,500 +/-
License Availability/Cost: On-line or over the counter at more than 700 venders statewide. Non-residents may also purchase licenses directly from Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. All bear licenses must be purchase prior to opening of bear hunting season.
Resident Hunting: $25
Resident Bear License: $101
Non-Resident Bear License: $506 ((Non-Resident hunters are not required to purchase a regular hunting license, just a bear hunting license. Resident hunters must purchase a hunting license AND bear hunting license).
Bear Range: Primarily southeast and northwest counties of the state, although range is expanding.
Spring Hunts: No
Fall Hunts: Yes
Dates: Archery-October 1-20**
Muzzleloader: October 26-November 3**
**Dates provided were for 2013; hunters should check 2014 regulations summary for current opening/closing dates.
Legal Weapons: All vertical bows with 40 Ib. minimum draw, crossbows with 100 minimum draw and a working safety and bolts at least 14-inches in length. All broadheads must have a cutting radius of at least 7/8-inch. Muzzleloader rifles and pistols .40 caliber or more, 20 gauge or larger shotguns shooting a single slug or ball loaded from the muzzle.
Contacts: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
(405) 521-2739-Wildlife Division
(405) 521-3852-License Division
Though the season has been in place for only five years, bears have inhabited Oklahoma for several decades. For hunters, this means that a good number of older age class bears are being harvested. As a matter of fact, some giant bears have come out of the Sooner State, including numerous that have been documented to weigh over 500 pounds. A hunter also has a chance at a color-phase bear here too. Roughly, 10% of the bears harvested have been cinnamon or chocolate colored. You can hunt over bait on private land as well.
In the late 1950s and into the next decade the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reintroduced 254 black bear from northern Minnesota and Manitoba into the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. By 1990 that humble number had grown to an estimated 2,000 bear and today the population is believed to be over 4,000.
The Ozark Mountains are located in north-central and northwestern Arkansas and extend into northeastern Oklahoma. The Ouachita Mountains rise from west-central Arkansas and extend into southeastern Oklahoma. Together they form what is known as the U.S. Interior Highlands, one of the few mountain ranges between the Appalachian Mountains in the east and Rocky Mountains in the west. They are also home to some of the best yet last remaining bear habitat in the southern quadrant of the United States. In short, Oklahoma’s thriving bear population is spill over from Arkansas’ reintroduction.
By 2000 bear sightings were increasingly common in several easternmost counties of the state, particularly those in the southeast region where an increase in nuisance reports. As a result, interest in hunting bear was growing and biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation were wondering if it was time to initiate a hunting season, if only on a limited basis in select counties.
To answer the question, that year the ODWC sought the assistance of Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit (FWRU) to help gather data on bear numbers in the state and what type of habitats bear prefer. As a starting point the FWRU put the population at 450, admittedly a conservatively low number. Over the next decade studies using various field approaches such as radio telemetry and DNA assessments were conducted by the FWRU, Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management in conjunction with the ODWC and by 2008 the population in southeast Oklahoma was estimated at around 1,600 animals. Today they estimate that around 2,000 bears inhabit Oklahoma. This number might sound small compared to other regions, but the populations can be dense considering the relatively small area that the bears inhabit.
In 2009 the first hunting season with a harvest quota of 20 bear had been set in Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha Counties during an early October archery and late October muzzleloader season. Hunters filled the quota in one day. 2013 marked the fifth year of the Oklahoma bear hunt. Currently, studies are underway to more accurately estimate bear populations in the northeastern part of the state.
To say Oklahoma’s bear hunting season has been a success is somewhat of an understatement. In 2009, the first year hunting was allowed 19 bear were harvested. In 2010 and 2011 the 20 bear quota was still in place and 32 and 31 bears were killed, respectively, within 48 hours of opening day each year! In 2012 the 20 bear quota was removed during the archery season and hunters killed 66 bear. In 2013, a year of high mast yields when hunting proved more challenging the kill dropped to 28.
Although 95-percent of Oklahoma is privately owned finding bears often proves more challenging than finding a place to hunt. Within the four counties currently open to bear hunting are nearly a dozen wildlife management areas covering more than 511, 300 acres. Several are found within Ouachita National Forest which covers more than 354,000 acres in Le Flore and McCurtain Counties.
Specific rules are in place while bear hunting WMAs, such as baiting is not allowed and access fees may be required on some, so hunters should check the ODWC web site for details.
It should also be noted hunting is only allowed with legal archery and muzzleloader equipment and all hunters must purchase a bear license. Resident hunters must also purchase a regular hunting license.