When the hunting season for black bears opens Oct. 1 in Oklahoma, the area available to hunters will have more than doubled in size, and the bag limit will remain the same.

The area will increase from four southeast counties to 13 counties, and parts of other counties, with Interstate 40 and U.S. 69 forming the boundaries. The archery season for black bears runs from Oct. 1-20. The muzzleloader season is Oct. 26-Nov. 3. Under the new rules, hunters will no longer be allowed to shoot bears wearing research collars.

At its regular monthly meeting Monday, the eight-member Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a Wildlife Department request that the bag limits remain the same for the expanded bear area. There is no quota for archery season, and hunters may take one bear of any sex. The individual limit is the same for hunters with muzzleloaders, but the season must end the day after the 20th bear has been killed. However, the 20-bear quota during that later season never has been reached.

“With the expanded zone, who knows what could happen, so we decided to keep the quota in place,” said Wildlife Division Assistant Chief Bill Dinkines.

This is the first expansion of the open area for black bear hunting since the season first opened Oct. 1, 2009, with a 20-bear quota for LeFlore, Latimer, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties. The archery season quota was lifted as studies showed little if any impact on the population, and hunters who purchased the $101 tags complained that the quota was filled too quickly — some years in just one day.

Hunters now will be allowed to pursue bears in all of Haskell and Choctaw counties and portions of Bryan, Atoka, Pittsburg, McIntosh, Muskogee and Sequoyah counties, in addition to the existing four-county area of Latimer, LeFlore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties.

Biologists report the southeast Oklahoma bear population still is growing.

“Actually, we’re looking at two different populations (in Oklahoma),” Dinkines said. “The northeast population is the one we’re more concerned about because it’s not showing a very good growth rate, but the southeast population we’ve been hunting since 2009 is still showing about a 6% increase.”

In 2018, bowhunters killed the most bears in a season with 85. Archery hunters took 78, and hunters using muzzleloading rifles killed seven.

Hunters must purchase a special tag to hunt black bears prior to the season. For resident hunters, the cost is $101, and for nonresident hunters, it’s $506. Hunters must immediately report their kills to wildlife biologists.

The Commission first approved of the rule change in March following an annual public comment period on hunting and fishing rules. The bear hunting rule and several others authorized under Title 800 of Oklahoma Statutes were approved as a package by the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in May.

Only one rule change approved by the Commission was denied by the Legislature, a proposal designed to increase cautions surrounding Chronic Wasting Disease that could hit wild deer or elk.

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Kelly Bostian



Twitter: @KellyBostian

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