When the sun rises Thursday morning, hundreds of bowhunters in southeastern Oklahoma will be in the woods. Most will be hunting deer, but a few will be looking to be the first hunter in Oklahoma to legally take a black bear.
How many bears will be taken on opening day of Oklahoma’s first bear season is anybody’s guess. Two weeks ago some were predicting that the entire season limit total of 20 would be killed on opening day. Many bears were coming to bait and being frequently seen on trail cameras, said Joe Hemphill, southeast region supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Now, beauty berries are ripening and white oak acorns are falling. The bears have changed their feeding habits. "Bears are off the corn and other kinds of bait and on the natural food (beauty berries, persimmons, wild grapes and acorns) so people aren’t near as sure of themselves as they were two weeks ago,” Hemphill said. Baiting bears is allowed on private land in the four counties open for black bear hunting — Le Flore, Latimer, McCurtain and Pushmataha. Molasses-covered corn, donuts, honey buns, chips, raspberry extract are just some of the baits that hunters are using on private land to try and attract bears. Baiting is not allowed on public land, consistent with rules already in place in the Ouachita National Forest, where most of the public land is available for bear hunting. Bait likely will be key to a bow hunter’s chance for success. Hemphill said he’s received many phone calls from deer hunters who are thinking about buying a bear license, just in case a bear walks under their stand. But chances of that happening are dim, Hemphill said. "You just don’t see ‘em. Bears are very elusive animals,” he said. "I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve only seen one that I wasn’t actively pursuing (as a nuisance bear).