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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Bear hunters eclipse harvest record

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By Randy Zellers

PARIS — Arkansas bear hunters harvested 765 bears during the 2023 hunting season, topping the record by a margin of 100 bears, according to a presentation given by Myron Means at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s March 21 meeting at the Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park.

Means, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Large Carnivore Program coordinator, said hunters took 665 black bears during archery, muzzleloader and modern gun seasons in 2020, and harvest remained in the high 400s the next two years.

Last year’s record is likely attributed to an earlier opening day of the bear archery season in Bear Zones 1 and 2. Recent seasons opened on the third week in September to be concurrent with deer archery season, but bear hunters in 2023 were able to get out on Sept. 13, a week and a half earlier.

“You see a lot more bears at bait stations before the acorns drop, then the bears will go to the woods and then start denning,” Means said. “Quite frankly, we’re getting bear harvest in the state about where we need bear harvest in the state.”

Means says the early season does come with one caveat: an increased chance of harvesting a female bear before they begin their fall denning cycle.

“We saw an increase in female bear harvest, but it’s not something that I’m going to say the sky is falling over,” Means said. “We do need to pay some attention to it because the females are the future of our bear population. Two years of high female harvest in a row may trigger a need to look at changes in season structure.”

AGFC Director Austin Booth pointed out that harvest appeared to favor male bears heavily during the first few days of the bear season opener. This, according to Means, may indicate that hunters who were baiting and preparing their hunting sites seemed to be selecting for males at first, but became much less choosy as the quota neared.

“I think our bear hunters are trying to educate themselves about how they can take a bear and help the population by selecting for males,” Means said. “We worked with Clay Newcomb to produce a video on how to differentiate between males and females, and I’ve done some bear hunting seminars for the last two years where identifying a bear’s sex is a component of the presentation. This is the number one way a hunter can help protect the future of their sport.”

In keeping with the bear season since its reestablishment in Arkansas, archers accounted for more than 80 percent of the harvest. Six hundred and forty-three of the 765 bears taken in 2023 came by way of bow-and-arrow.

“This has really been the case since baiting was allowed on private land for bears in 2001,” Means said. Ninety percent of the Bear Zone 1 harvest was by archery, and the 400-bear quota was met within seven days up there.”

Muzzleloader hunters harvested 36 bears (5 percent), and bear hunters using modern guns took 86 bears (11 percent). The bear harvest in Zones 4, 5 and 5A all came by way of modern gun.

For the second year, hunters in Bear Zones 3 and 4 were able to take bears during a brief quota hunt during December. Although technical difficulties forced the AGFC to close the season before the quota was completely met, Means is confident that remaining conservative in the harvest in this newly opened portion of the state was beneficial to the population.

“We had 19 bears harvested within a few days,” Means said. “And the female portion of the harvest was only 37 percent, which bodes well for the future of bear season down there.”

Bear Zone 5 in southeast Arkansas reported a harvest of nine bears, and Bear Zone 5A along the White River in southeast Arkansas had two bears harvested within its borders.

Means also had time to talk about some of the reproductive surveys that took place in March, following up with population trends and the AGFC’s monitoring program.

“It’s been a good spring and a lot of our females had at least two cubs with them,” Means said. “In Zone 4, we saw a lot of triplets as well. That population has a lot of food and a lot of room to grow. We just need to keep vigilant and protect as many female bears as we can.”

Visit Helpful Tips for Bear Identification on YouTube for a breakdown on how to tell male and female bears apart during hunting season.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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