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South Arkansas bear hunt highlights 2022 harvest

BY Randy Zellers

ON 12-21-2022


Dec. 21, 2022

Randy Zellers

Assistant Chief of Communications

LITTLE ROCK — With a shortened three-day hunt window, hunters in south Arkansas’s much-anticipated bear season took full advantage of their December hunt, totalling 28 bears harvested in newly opened Bear Zone 4 from Dec. 10-12. Bear hunters in other portions of the state saw success as well.

Preliminary results from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s online checking system states the total harvest for 2022 stands at 469 bears, with the vast majority of those bears harvested during archery season in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. Bear Zone 1 (north and northwest Arkansas) saw 303 bears harvested, and Bear Zone 2 (west-central Arkansas) saw a harvest of 126 bears. Hunters in Bear Zones 5 and 5A (southeast Arkansas along the White River) had bear harvests of nine and three bears, respectively. Newly opened Bear Zone 3 did not have any bears harvested, despite its five-bear quota allowed.

table of bear harvest
“We really didn’t expect to see much of a harvest, if any, in Zone 3,” Myron Means, large carnivore program coordinator for the AGFC, said. “It’s a much smaller zone than zones 1, 2 and 4 and doesn’t have the same sort of habitat in zones 5 and 5A. But we have had enough reports of bears in that area during earlier portions of the year to open a limited season there.”  

Even with the new zones, the statewide harvest was slightly lower than the 2021 season harvest of 493 bears but was in line with stable harvest numbers seen since 2001, when baiting was allowed for bear hunting on private land.

The newly opened zones in south Arkansas grabbed many hunters’ attentions, as the bear population has expanded into the Gulf Coastal Plain of Arkansas and bears had been recorded at deer feeders on a regular basis for a decade. After substantial monitoring research performed in conjunction with the University of Arkansas at Monticello, the AGFC bear management team submitted a limited hunt to the Commission earlier this year, which was approved.

600-pound bear taken in Bear Zone 4
“We intentionally set this new season with a small quota and scheduled it later in the year to try to protect as many female bears as possible,” Means said. “They typically would begin their denning cycle by December, so we were hopeful that we’d have limited female harvest to keep the population stable. We did have some females harvested, but I’ve heard from a few hunting leases who intentionally passed up females they saw with cubs, and it’s good to hear of that sportsmanship taking place during the hunt.”

Overall, the harvest in Zone 4 was split evenly, with 14 males and 14 females taken before the 25 bear quota was reached. The three additional bears were taken because the quota was exceeded on the third hunting day before the zone was able to be closed.

“We anticipate an occasional overage in our quotas, and we’re very happy that the quota wasn’t reached in a single day, giving hunters a couple of opportunities to harvest a bear before it was closed,” Means said.

Of the bears harvested in Zone 4, nine were taken in Union County. Eight bears were taken in Ashley and Bradley counties, two in Drew County and one in Calhoun County.

Means says that only two of the bears wearing satellite-transmitter collars as part of an ongoing research opportunity were harvested, and that AGFC staff are still working to place remaining collars on more bears to continue monitoring the south Arkansas population.

“As of the end of the season, we have 11 collars still out and four left to place on females in south Arkansas,” Means said. “We have a few leads on possible females to collar still, but could still use help in reaching our goal. If any private landowner or deer lease is seeing female bears at their feeders still, we’d really like to hear from them.”

Email to contact Means if you have any female bears in south Arkansas you’re willing to have collared to help with this vital research.

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