MOUNTAIN HOME – Bear hunting with a bow was over nearly before it started this year in Bear Zone 1. In only three days, the 250-bear quota was met by bowhunters bagging their bruins.
The 72-hour season has some hunters scratching their heads, but Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Large Carnivore Program Coordinator Myron Means explains that it’s not due to a huge spike in the bear population or harvest-checking hijinks.
“I wanted another couple of days, too,” Means said. “I had bears on my barrel, but they left Friday when that last round of wind and rain knocked some acorns to the ground. When the bears come back, I won’t have a shot at them until muzzleloader season.”
Acorns, or more likely the lack thereof, have a large part to do with the fast action this bear season in Zone 1. This year, the Ozarks have seen a very sparse mast crop compared to years past, which makes bear hunting much easier for people using bait.
“When Mother Nature provides, you can’t hardly pull bears away from the acorns, just like we saw last year when we barely met the quota,” Means said. “But when she’s stingy, bears go to bait.”
Means says the relationship between hunter success and mast is directly linked in Zone 1.
“Last year we had a bumper crop of acorns in the Ozarks, and the quota wasn’t filled until the very end of the season,” Means said. “The year before that we had an acorn shortage and the season lasted three days that year. The two years before that followed the same fluctuation with harvest and the acorn drop.”
The popularity of bear hunting in Arkansas also has increased, particularly in Bear Zone 1. Means says the abundance of private land bordering the Ozark National Forest offers the ideal place to bait and draw bears.
“You don’t see it in Bear Zone 2 because it’s mostly public land where baiting is not allowed,” Means said.
Means says population work throughout the year still indicates that bear populations are roughly the same, with a slight increase over the last decade. To accommodate that increase, biologists increased the bear quota in Zone 1 this year, adding 50 bears to the archery quota, but the lack of acorns still made for an unusually fast season.
To verify that all bears checked actually were taken, and to get biological information about the bear population, each hunter who harvests a bear is required to pull a premolar and mail it to the AGFC after they have checked it.
“Ever since we made that a requirement, we receive about 95 percent of those teeth,” Means said. “If someone checks a bear, but does not submit a tooth, we will contact them. They can face a pretty hefty fine for not properly checking the animal if we can’t get that tooth.”
All hope to bag an Arkansas bear in Bear Zone 1 isn’t over, however. Means says hunters can still look forward to muzzleloader season, which is Oct. 20-29 and has an independent quota of 45 bears. After that the modern gun season for youth hunters is Nov. 3-4 and Modern Gun season is Nov. 10-30, with a collective quota of 45 more bears. But hunters should be prepared for a fast season for muzzleloaders and modern gun as well.
“The low mast crop and even smaller quotas likely will close the window to get your bear in Zone 1 quickly this year, so I’d advise hunters to be ready to take their bears on those opening days. I will if I have a chance.”