Feb. 23, 2022
Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas will celebrate its 42nd consecutive year of modern-day bear hunting this fall, and for the first time since the recovery of the black bear in The Natural State, hunters in the Gulf Coastal Plain may be allowed to participate.
According to Myron Means, AGFC Large Carnivore Program coordinator, staff will propose a limited black bear hunt in this year’s regulations package for fall 2022.
“The proposed season structure still has not been established, as we still have some reports to receive from the University of Arkansas at Monticello before we finalize season dates and quotas,” Means told Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioners at last week’s regularly scheduled meeting. “More than likely the framework will be very limited as we begin the season in this part of the state.”
Means says bears reproduce much more slowly than other big game animals in the state and their overall population is naturally smaller than animals such as deer and turkeys, so overharvest is a possible threat if the season is not kept conservative and proper regulations are not established to maintain the population at a healthy number.
“We likely will see a later opening day than Bear Zones 1 and 2 enjoy, which will hopefully allow more sows the opportunity to feed up and begin denning before the season begins in Zone 3, much like we see in Bear Zones 5 and 5A already.”
Means says that even with these precautions in place, there is still a concern for overharvest that will need to be watched carefully.
“Most of Zones 3 and 4 are private land, and hunters will have feeders out for deer that bears will be attracted to, which will make them more accessible to hunters than bears in Zone 2, where large blocks of public land dominate the landscape,” Means said. “I anticipate the quota to be met in this zone very quickly, and that quota may even be exceeded on opening day, so we will craft the framework to begin these new zones in baby steps to lessen the chance of overharvest.”
Means also highlighted the 2021 statewide bear harvest during his report, stating that 493 bears were taken by hunters last fall. While this may seem like a sharp decrease compared to the previous year’s record high of 665 bears harvested, it still falls in line with the stable harvest numbers seen since 2001.
“That was the year we began to allow baiting for bears on private property in Arkansas,” Means said. “That greatly stabilized the harvest close to the established quota in Zone 1, where a lot of private land allows hunters to take advantage of bait to harvest a bear.”
Bear Zone 1 in the north and northwest portion of Arkansas led the state, as it has since modern bear hunting was established, with 333 bears taken in 2021. Hunters in Bear Zone 2, which is composed of west-central Arkansas in the Ouachita Mountains, harvested 144 bears. Hunters in Zones 5 and 5A along the White River corridor in southeast Arkansas took 12 and four bears, respectively.
According to Means, Bear Zone 2, which is the only zone without a harvest quota, has much more public land where baiting cannot be employed.
“It is much more of a self-regulating harvest in that zone,” Means said. “We have had quotas there in the past, but the harvest hasn’t warranted a quota there since 2015.”
Seventy-one percent of Arkansas’s harvested bears were taken with archery equipment, which is typical for bear hunting in The Natural State.
“Before we began to separate quotas by method, we saw some years when the bear quota was filled in some zones before muzzleloader or modern gun seasons even began,” Means said. “Now we do have quotas set by method to allow people using muzzleloaders or modern guns an opportunity to harvest a bear, but the overwhelming majority of the harvest still occurs during the first three or four days of archery season.”