Last year, hunters in southeastern Oklahoma were predicting the state’s first black bear season would open and close on the same day since the season had to close once 20 bears were killed.
They were so wrong. Only four bears were killed on opening day and just 19 for the entire month-long season. Hunters should have saved their boasting for this year.
On Friday, the opening day of the bear archery season, hunters checked in 31 bears – 25 males and six females. Season over. The largest trophy was a black bear taken in Latimer County, killed by Bob Burgett of Kiowa.
The bear, shot east of Hartshorne, weighed 463 pounds after it was field dressed, said Joe Hemphill, southeast region chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
Burgett’s bear easily weighed more than 600 pounds on the hoof, he said.
Several bears weighing more than 300 pounds were taken by bow hunters Friday. Kelsey Weaver, 17, of Poteau became the state’s first female hunter to kill a bear.
Twelve of the 31 bears came from Le Flore County, 12 from Pushmataha County, four from Latimer County and three from McCurtain County, Hemphill said.
The big question is, why did hunters have so much more success this season? Hemphill said the acorn crop wasn’t as plentiful in southeastern Oklahoma this year so more bears were attracted to bait.
“Bait is drawing a lot more bears than we expected it to,” he said.
However, Hemphill thinks the biggest reason for the increase was the use of crossbows, which are legal for all bow hunters for the first time this year.
Before this season, crossbows could only be used by bow hunters with a physical disability and hunters age 60 or older.
At least 20 of the 31 bears checked in Friday to state wildlife officials were killed by hunters using crossbows, Hemphill said.
“I think crossbows made a major difference, just my opinion,” he said.
The fact that the black bear season lasted just one day left some hunters disgruntled and Hemphill said state wildlife officials would be re-examining the regulations for next year.
One possibility is to impose separate bag limits on bears for the archery and muzzleloader seasons to give hunters more opportunities, he said.
“We are definitely going to do something different,” Hemphill said.
Hemphill wasn’t concerned that 11 bears more than the imposed season limit of 20 were killed. In the beginning, state wildlife officials were “very conservative” in deciding that only 20 bears could be taken by hunters, he said.
Liberalizing the bag limit would not harm the black bear population, which studies show is continuing to grow in southeast Oklahoma, he said.