, Muskogee, OK


October 12, 2012

Column: Black bear population continues to show growth

— Having spent a great deal of my youth roaming in the mountainous region of southeastern Oklahoma, I can still recall the locals and some of my family members scaring the begeebee’s out of me with stories of monster black bears lurking in the same areas I roamed and hunted.

Looking back, most of what they told me stretched the truth a bit, but none the less, just the thought was enough to keep me on my toes.

Fast forward to the present and  bear populations in southeastern Oklahoma continue to rise and serious hunters have a golden opportunity to harvest one of these magnificent big game animals.

As this is being written the current count taken since the start of the archery season on Oct. 1 stands at 42.

The bears taken have come from Leflore, Latimer, Pushmataha and McCurtain counties, respectively.

It’s really remarkable considering bear numbers by the early 1900s were almost non-existent due to loss of habitat and over hunting.

Leann Bunn of the Lake Tenkiller area relayed a story that she and husband Ted were bowhunting deer from of a ground blind in Cherokee county area one evening last week when ,about an hour before dark, a large curious bruin approached the blind.

“At first we thought it was neat but as it lumbered closer we clapped our hands and shouted to scare the bear back into the deep draw from which it came,” said Bunn.

 “Needless to say our deer hunt was over for the evening and we reported the sighting to the landowner and, then, on to wildlife officials.”

Tom Willis of Fort Gibson harvested the 24th bear taken this season while hunting near the town of Hodson in southeastern Oklahoma. Bear hunting this season has proven to be much tougher than in previous seasons which he directly attributes to the heavy acorn mast.

Locally, chief biologist Craig Endicott of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, based out of the Porter office offered up this information concerning bears for the northeastern part of the state.

“We are in our third year of Oklahoma State University’s black bear research project and here are some interesting facts,” said Endicott. “The studies have involved Adair, Cherokee, and Sequoyah counties.

“Over the past two years, we have caught 17 adult bears, nine females,and eight males. Normally, we target females and the best time is when they are in hibernation. Most times, we extract a tooth to determine the age, we then weigh them and check the overall health.”

A few more tidbits shared by Endicott are that females only breed every other year.  

The cubs leave when they are a year-and-a-half old and they become sexually mature at 3 years old.

Young bears, especially males, tend to follow river systems and may travel miles upon miles until they find an area to their liking.

Bears are neat critters and their numbers are growing. Hopefully we can co-exist with each other.

John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. To reach him with news or comments, call (918) 348-9431 or email him at

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