March 17th, 2023 will go down in one of those days that I’ll likely never forget. It was one of those moments where I was extremely grateful to be one of the few people in this world to get to be on a bear den study. I held bears, learned new things, and gained a great appreciation for wild things. (AND the people who track those wild things.)


If that morning was a weather report, in the headlines it would have read: Today’s forecast; air quality is thick with anticipation, 100% chance of having beautiful day with zero percent chance of bad moods or grouchy faces ahead.  At least, that’s what I read that morning, totally skipping over the actual weather report which should have said “deceivingly sunny and clear in Jasper, Arkansas, wind will make you think you fell a hole and landed in Antarctica, so make sure you wear your good puffy and please DO NOT forget your gloves! Nevertheless, we; Kolby, my husband, our friends, David McDaniels, Brent Reeves, & his daughter Bailee and myself ate a quick breakfast at an air bnb we stayed at the night before, all super ready for our bear adventure.


Finally, it was time! We loaded up in the truck and met up with our convoy. We drove deeper in the woods, crossing a creek and bumping along the dirt roads. We had been driving for a while and Bailee asked “Are we there yet?” We all laughed and secretly wondered the same question ourselves. We followed the lead truck into a beautiful not open to the public Elk food plot clearing, everyone parked and we gathered up in a circle and waited for our instructions. The wind whipped us but hot hands were passed out and more clothing layers were added.


Myron Means, our contact for the bear den study, introduced everyone in the group and explained what was going to happen during the study/ survey and why. Every year, the Arkansas Game and Fish checks on the collared sows and answers some very important questions. Are these bears healthy? How is population?  Are they eating enough food?  How has the environment impacted the bears this year?


Bears typically have a low productive rate (typically only having about 15 cubs in their reproductive years vs a unspayed cat could produce up to 100 kittens in her lifetime.) It’s the Arkansas Game and Fish’s job to track the bears, because it could take up to 15-20 years for a bear population to bounce back if something bad were to happen. Last summer, there was a drought in Arkansas and as a result there could be less cubs being born this year. The second part to this survey was that there’s a new drug that will help the AG&F tranquilize the sows so that they can check their health safely and with less side effects as possible. Most people think that bears go through hibernation but it’s not true! They go through a similar process called torpor, which slows down a bear’s metabolism (and other things!) and makes some drugs last a little longer in mama bear’s system than researchers would prefer.


Myron Means and the rest of the team went down to the bear den to meet up with mama bear, while we waited up the hill for them to give us the “all clear!” I wish I could have seen this part but it was understandably professionals only. We didn’t have to wait long before getting the “all clear” before heading down the hill to the bear den. Once we got there I was shocked to see the ‘bear den.’ I suppose I was thinking of a dark gloomy cave, much like the one I have read to many children over the years, Going on a Bear Hunt. If this was a hiking trail and I was stumbling by, I would have missed it, completely. It looked like a bunch of rocks naturally piled up on the side of a hill. The den opening was camouflaged by some rocks, the actual den was down in the ground. 

AG&F and team already had mama bear out of the den. She had some band aids over her eyes to keep her eyes from drying out and they were intubating her to make sure she had enough oxygen.

It was a lot to take in but as soon as I saw those two furry little cubs swaddled up with warm human baby blankets, my eyes turned into heart emoji eyes. Someone handed me the little black cub and said, “keep the cubs wrapped up- they are like human babies and can’t regulate their heat yet!” I took off my borrowed puffy now that I was sweating from the hill blocking all the icy wind and put the cub in it. My eyes welled up with a little extra moisture and I couldn’t stop smiling. It was so surreal that I was there, holding a real living wild thing, a cub.


Both cubs were very different, which was another thing I was surprised about. One of the cubs was black with blue eyes and a pink nose. The other cub has was almost a blonde and brown salt and pepper color on her face that faded to black on her body. She also had blue eyes but with dark little rings around her eyes.

I held the black cub just for a few minutes. He was pretty content and snuggled in. I waited a while and I got to hold the other cub. She was squirmy and bossy and I enjoyed her personality. “Can we take her home?” I asked Kolby and he said yes, we can! Another guy remarked, “You’ll have to feed her a lot of food!”

She was squeaking so much that I had to take a video. She reminded us of our squirrel dog at home. She wiggled a little bit and one of her paws popped out of the blanket. Tiny, furry, and small with sharp little claws. Adorable and fierce. After a little while, handed her off to Kolby. She wiggled and stretched for him. During one of her stretches, she licked Kolby’s beard and yawned. I happened to be taking a picture at that moment. “Did the bear just Lick you?” Kolby chuckled, “ I think so.” (He’s a bear whisperer, I tell you!)


Someone shouted, “One hour!” and Myron Means and the team took the cubs back to weigh and measure them and find out their gender. The black bear turned out to be a male and he was also smaller than the other bear. They weighed the salt and pepper bear and found that she was bigger than the male bear. Typically the male is bigger for bears, so this situation was very unique. I think she needed to be a little bigger for all her personality! After all the data from the cubs was recorded, the team started to put all bears back in the den. It was time to go back up the hill for the humans.

We walked up to the top of the hill where our vehicles were parked. We gathered for a few minutes and chatted about what had just happened over the last three or so hours. It was such a wonderful experience for everyone. Special shout out to David McDaniels for getting all the photos.