EL DORADO – Hunters in Arkansas’s Gulf Coastal Plain and portions of the Delta in south Arkansas are gearing up for bear hunting’s sophomore season this weekend. Bear hunting season in bear zones 3 and 4 is Dec. 9-15, although the season may close earlier in each zone if the harvest quota is reached.
“We set quotas on bear hunting in most of the state to ensure we don’t overharvest our bears,” Myron Means, Large Carnivore Program coordinator for the AGFC, said. “A healthy female only has cubs every other year, so it can take a lot of time to recover the population if too many are harvested.”
Last year marked the first time bear hunting was allowed in bear zones 3 and 4 in nearly a century. Although no bears were harvested in zone 3, the AGFC did need to close the season three days early in zone 4 when the quota of 25 was reached.
“We actually harvested 28 bears, but a few bears were taken on that last day before the quota was reached, so that explains the slight overage,” Means said. “The hunt worked like it was supposed to and no additional bears were harvested once the quota closed the season.”
Although Means doesn’t expect many (if any) bears harvested in zone 3 again this year, it will remain open with a quota of five bears. Zone 4 will retain last year’s quota of 25 bears.
Means stresses hunters should continue to practice patience and good conservation ethics this year and avoid shooting female bears as much as possible.
“It’s legal to harvest a female, but those are the bears that are building and maintaining that south Arkansas bear population,” Means said.
Means says one of the easiest ways to identify females is if they have cubs present. If you have multiple bears coming to a feeder or bait station at the same time, chances are good it’s a sow and her cubs.
“Even if the one or two smaller bears in the bunch are still fairly large, they’re likely cubs that are in their first year with the sow and need to stay with her until next spring,” Means said. “I can’t stress enough that hunters would be helping the population out a lot by passing on females with cubs and any collared bears they see, which are all female.”
In addition to helping build the population, collared female bears are providing extremely valuable information on bear movements and habitat use in south Arkansas. All of this data will help the AGFC manage the bear population in this portion of the state much more effectively to continue offering this hunting opportunity.
“This is the second year of a monitoring project using satellite transmitters in collars that were part of a partnership with a group called Blood Origins,” Means said. “Last year we had 11 females overwinter with collars. We managed to put collars on more bears this year, but we’ve already lost two of those sows. Going into the season, we’re sitting at 12 collared bears giving us information on habitat use, so every collar we can keep out there is important.”