Oklahoma’s 1st bear season successful

State wildlife officials are labeling Oklahoma’s first-ever bear hunting season a success.

A total of 19 bears were shot amid four southeast Oklahoma counties during a season that ran Oct. 1-Nov. 1.

Micah Holmes, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation public information supervisor, said the state had placed a maximum quota of 20 bears that could be killed from within a population estimated at about 450 animals.

He said the season makes Oklahoma the 29th state to allow black bear hunting. Kansas occasionally has a bear wander in from a neighboring state but has no true bear population.

Oklahoma bear hunters could use the appropriate equipment within the state’s on-going archery and muzzleloading deer seasons. Baiting for bears was allowed only on private lands. The use of dogs was illegal.

Holmes said the current population has gradually expanded from a bear population that was stocked into Arkansas about 50 years ago. Arkansas has had limited bear hunting seasons for about 30 years.

Bears and bear hunting are largely supported in Oklahoma.

“It’s really neat to have a big predator in the woods,” Holmes said. “It makes Oklahoma¬† a wilder place.”

Surveys showed about 91 percent of Oklahomans supported the bear season.

Holmes said on-going research that included collecting DNA samples from hair collected at bait sights and the tracking of radio-collared bears showed Oklahoma’s bear population is growing steadily and the animals are healthy.

“All of that information told us we could offer recreational opportunities for bear hunting,” Holmes said. “That’s what we do when we think we can.”

To insure no more than 20 bears were taken hunters had to check online or via telephone daily to track to total kill. The season would have closed the day after the 20th bear was killed.

“We didn’t know what we’d have, really,” Holmes said. “Some thought we might get 20 killed the first day and some thought we’d only get two the entire season. Things worked out pretty well to take 19 and use the entire season.”

Every bear shot was inspected by a biologist. Things like gender, age and over-all health were recorded.

Holmes said about 60 percent of the bears harvested were males. The biggest bear weighed about 345 pounds.