A Louisiana man recently had to share a deer he hunted in Huttig with a family of black bears.
Jerry Sepulvado of Calhoun, Louisiana is a member of the LaPere Union County Hunting Club. He knew there were bears in the area last Saturday November 12 while he went hunting, including a family that appeared to consist of a mother bear and four cubs.
“We had pictures of this mother bear and her four cubs earlier in the year and then I saw them a few weeks ago,” he said. “Black bears are fairly common in Arkansas and Louisiana.”
Last Saturday around 4pm Sepulvado bagged a buck, but because others were also hunting in the area that day he waited until “quiet time” to leave his stand to get the deer. His son Austin and grandson Shane were with him, along with Shane’s wife Katie.
“At 4:45 these five bears came out and they came out very close to where I was standing, maybe 20 meters away. I took photos on my iPhone. They ate some of my corn and bran, and then they walked down the alley to where I shot my deer,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do, didn’t want to shoot them, so I waited, to see. After a few minutes they went into the woods on the same side my deer had run away on.”
Randy Zellers, deputy chief of communications for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said hunters in southern Arkansas should get used to seeing black bears, which are the only bear species native to Arkansas.
“Arkansas was once unofficially known as the ‘Bear State.’ In the days of European settlement, Arkansas had bears, black bears… so many that hunters and trappers came from across the ocean. Many of the French and Canadian trappers came to Arkansas to track, trap, and hunt bears her,” he said.
Back then, bear hunters were particularly interested in “bear oil”, which is extracted from bear fat and used to preserve food.
“Refrigeration wasn’t a thing and storing food was difficult,” Zellers said. “Bear oil was one of the most stable oils back then.”
Arkansas was such a center for bear hunting that by the 1920s habitat destruction by European settlement and market hunting had reduced the bear population to about 50.
“We’ve had a few that just barely lasted in the White River area of southern Arkansas,” Zellers said.
The AGFC was formed in 1915 and one of its first acts was to ban bear hunting.
“When you’re talking about a big predator, a big carnivore, it’s very difficult because they have a very slow reproductive rate — they’re not like rabbits or quail,” Zellers said. “A bear usually has one litter of cubs, which is usually one or two, or if you’re really lucky, three in all, and it will be a year or two before that bear is ready to breed again.”
To further boost the state’s bear population, the AGFC relocated more than 250 bears from Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada, to Arkansas in 1959. The bears were housed in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, Zellers said.
And because of those efforts, Arkansas’ black bear population has made a significant recovery. According to Zellers, the state’s bear population is 5,000 to 6,000 based on current estimates.
“Arkansas’ bear reintroduction is actually considered the most successful reintroduction of a large carnivore in the world,” he said.
Speaking to Sepulvado, he doesn’t sound like he was overly concerned by the bears last weekend, although he said when he encountered a couple of bears the day after he shot his deer, he watched them left the area, and then left the opposite direction.
“I see a lot of people saying they’re scared. You never know what you’ll see when you’re hunting,” he said.
Last Saturday, as night fell, Sepulvado and his son were finally able to leave their belay and go in search of his deer. For a while they couldn’t find any traces of blood, but eventually he found some hair from the deer.
“I saw some white hairs on the ground – I thought ‘surely I didn’t shoot the deer low’ because that’s where the white hairs would have come off – and finally I saw my deer about five meters away from where I saw the hairs he said. “I had found (the deer) probably within 15 to 30 minutes after they got it. I was lucky not to trip over them. I didn’t hear anything as I looked into the thicket. The The deer’s head was pointed at me, its legs stretched out as if something had pulled it.”
Zellers said bears like a light meal. For this reason, they frequently visit places such as hunting clubs where game feeders – or more accurately, “wild animal feeders” – are well stocked at this time of year.
“These bears discovered, ‘Hey, this is a free-feed area.’ If you don’t want those bears dropping by just before hunting season, stop putting out food,” he advised. “Bird feeders, open garbage cans, easy-to-reach dog food, animal carcass dumps, cleaning sites — bears will be attracted to them decide for the light meal. The best a hunter can do is stop putting food in that feeding station. The bear will move on and try to find food elsewhere.”
But black bears are generally not aggressive, Zellers said. They’re relatively easy to scare away by yelling, banging pots and pans, or even throwing a stick.
“Well, I wouldn’t stand between a mother and her young; It’s an old saying, and I think it’s true, and I don’t think it’s unique to bears,” he said. “The best thing you can do from the start is make sure the bear understands that it’s not wanted… You’re not being aggressive; they are quite shy unless used to it (to areas where humans live). If you show them that this is not the right place, they don’t want to be there. And they won’t associate you with throwing a stick, they just know that a stick hurts and they will walk away.
Sometimes a bear finds its way into a neighborhood. Local residents might be excited to see the bear and decide to feed it, Zellers said, but that’s about the worst thing to do when a bear knocks. The bear will learn that it can get food in one place, but it will not understand that it is a person who is feeding it; Instead, the person will only look like a competitor for the food.
“It often happens in semi-rural areas, suburbs. A bear shows up, it’s neat and exciting … They want to encourage him to hang around, but then they get tired of him, but here’s where he’s getting food now, and you’re competition, and that’s where we run into a problem,” Zellers said. If you want to scare bears away – and people don’t like that very much – the best thing to do is to stop feeding them.”
Sepulvado said the bears that grabbed his deer managed to get a few bites before he passed. But the venison was still good, and the experience hasn’t scared him out of the woods.
“Don’t try the bears and don’t get caught between the bears and their food or the mother bear and her cubs, just enjoy it outside. Don’t be afraid to go into the forest,” he said.
For the first time this year, Southern Arkanan will have a bear hunting season. Zellers said bear hunting in northwestern Arkansas — near the Ozark Mountains — opened in 1980, but it took four more decades to bring the bear population in southern Arkansas to a high enough level to allow them here.
“The reason we hunt them (in Northwest Arkansas) — there’s a threshold called ‘sociological resilience’ (that’s the level) where bears and humans can coexist without too much harassment, with wildlife damage becoming too big a problem.” . The bear population can thrive, but it doesn’t become a nuisance to the human population,” he said. “We’re keeping the harvest pretty low just to maintain that sociological viability.”
Hunters in northwestern Arkansas have been at it since September, but with a smaller population in southern Arkansas, the first bear hunting season will be very conservative, Zellers said.
“It’s incredibly conservative,” he said. “We don’t want to overhunt these female bears because you would be setting yourself back decades with an animal with such a slow reproductive cycle. So we’re watching that very closely and opening up the season in the southern part of the state well into December, so chances are if anyone sees a bear outside in December, it’s most likely going to be a male bear.”
Zellers said bears don’t actually hibernate in Arkansas, but female bears hibernate in dens with their cubs. The AGFC is using this time to inspect the state’s bears and their cubs. The agency has radio-collared some bears in the state, allowing them to be tracked on a regular basis, and starting this year, some bears in southern Arkansas have also been fitted with satellite collars, allowing for real-time tracking, which the AGFC plans to use to estimate the bear population in the area .
“The satellite collars provide daily information — feedback on where the bear goes, how big its home range is, how it’s affected when humans go hunting,” Zellers said. “It gives us a great opportunity to see how this population, which hasn’t been hunted before, how they’re responding to increased human activity, hunting activity, to see where they’re going.”
The bear hunting season in Zone 4, where Union County is located, will open on December 10th and last through December 16th. The zone — which includes 18 counties — has a quota of 25 bears, and once that’s reached, bear season ends earlier than December 16 if the quota is reached earlier. Only modern weapons are allowed during bear hunting season in Zone 4.
“We want people who want to hunt a bear – some have already become a nuisance in deer clubs by tearing down feeders and whatnot – so this gives those hunters a chance to enjoy a bear hunt and take care of the problem of the nuisance he said. “So it’s a conservative season, but the idea is that we want to continue to have a stable, sustainable bear population in the southern part of the state.”
Deer season has already been a success for Sepulvado, but he will continue hunting for the remainder of the fall and winter, he said.
“We have been bow hunting since the beginning of bow season. We hunt a lot. Together with all of us (Sepulvado, Austin, Shane and Katie) we’ve killed 11 deer so far I think. That’s a lot of hours in the forest, not just happiness, it’s work,” he said. “We’re looking forward to bear season.”
And there’s space at the LaPere Hunting Club if anyone’s interested, he said. Those who are can call him at 318-547-6029 or Randy Debrühl at 318-801-4887.
For more information on bear hunting season and regulations, visit agfc.com, click on the ‘Hunt’ tab and select ‘Bears’ under ‘Big Game’ in the drop down menu.