All Things Outdoors


Oklahoma’s 2020 bear season saw a harvest of 72, a mark second only to the record 85 taken in 2018 and a big improvement over the 61 taken the previous season.

With a total of 528 bears killed the first 11 years of the hunt, the number killed in 2020 brings the total to an even 600 killed in a dozen seasons.

The season kicked off Oct. 1 with a hit by the first sitting governor of the state to take a black bear with bow and arrow, it saw hunters taking larger bears on-average, and wrapped up Nov. 1 with a few bears taken from expanded areas open to bear hunting and somewhat rare public lands muzzleloader kills, according to Jeff Ford, wildlife biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s early-season strike, taken with hunting guide Tom Cartwright of Holdenville, indicated some of the changes to come about since the season opened for a limited hunt in four Southeast counties in 2009.

More hunters are finding success with guides than during those early years and more hunters gaining experience and passing up those “first bear” targets to hold out for larger bears, Ford said.

“Our hunters are getting more patient and holding off to get bigger bears,” Ford said. “I’ve seen photos of at least three bears that would go over 500 pounds and most are in that 200- to 300-pound range.”

While the population continues to grow, a harvest that includes more males than females always makes a biologist breathe easier. Identifying the sex of a black bear in the field is difficult for anyone but the most experienced bear hunters, but patience in looking for the larger bears on average helps.

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“I would like to see a ratio with a few less females, but this is pretty good,” Ford said of the harvest that included 43 males (60 percent) in the harvest.

The kill of 72 and with larger bears on-average, is a bounce-back from a lower harvest of 61 in the 2019 season, which came on the heels of a record-setting harvest and in the first year the with a major expansion of the hunt area from the original four counties opened in 2009 to include portions of 12 counties east of State Highway 69 and south of Interstate 40.

The expanded hunting area still only accounted for a few black bears with two taken in Haskell County and one each in Bryan and Atoka counties, Ford said. The lion’s share of the harvest came, as always, from LeFlore County, with 33, and Pushmataha, with 17. “We still have none taken in Sequoyah or Pittsburgh counties and those are the ones (of the expanded area) I thought would be the most likely,” Ford said.

The last four bears taken were different because two came off public land and all four were taken with muzzleloader licenses in the first weekend of muzzleloader season, Ford said.

“You can use your archery tag during the muzzleloader season so we don’t sell that many licenses specific to muzzleloader,” he said. “These were bought specifically by deer hunters who wanted to have the tag in case they saw a black bear.”

An area heavy with red acorns and in a drainage that was partly on public land and adjoining private lands accounted for the kills, he said.

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While hunters can shoot bears over bait on private land, regulations do not allow use of bait on public areas. Hunters on public areas have found success targeting food sources like berry patches and productive acorn areas in the past, however.

“We have people who call every year and want to know about hunting public areas for bear and it’s just really tough,” Ford said. “They don’t leave a lot of sign, other than scat, so it’s hard unless you’re around someone who can give you a lot of advice, it’s pretty tough to go out there and sit down on 250,000 acres and have a bear walk out in front of you. They’re elusive, so to get one on public land is really doing something.”

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>