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Arkansas black bear hunting has been allowed since a 1960s effort to reintroduce the animals. Missouri is currently conducting a multiyear reintroduction study.Photo provided by MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION
Arkansas black bear hunting has been allowed since a 1960s effort to reintroduce the animals. Missouri is currently conducting a multiyear reintroduction study.

Photo provided by MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION

After 5: On the Prowl

Posted online
Hunting bears of any kind is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Chris Deckard.

The salesman at a Springfield pet supply store just returned from his first black bear hunt on a relative’s property in Arkansas.

But the bears Deckard was hunting weren’t the only animals that made the expedition dangerous.

Wild hogs and rattlesnakes kept him on his toes as much as the bears.

“It can be dangerous down there because there’s wild hogs running everywhere, too,” says Deckard, who works at All About Dogs & Cats, 2632 S. Glenstone Ave.

The smallest of the three bear species in North America, black bears are 2 feet to 3 feet tall on all fours and 4 feet to 7 feet long from their noses to tails, according to www.defenders.org, a wildlife preservation Web site. Male black bears weigh up to 300 pounds.

Their short, nonretractable claws make them excellent tree climbers but also can make them dangerous.

The danger was illustrated to Deckard when he was watching the Arkansas property on a computer that used a camera to track bear activity. One evening, he saw a black bear rip down a heavy deer feeder from a tree.

But Deckard says the hunt was worth the risk and had two purposes.

He enjoys hunting as a sport – he also shoots deer and turkey – and he processes and eats the meat. Deckard was successful in killing a black bear, which is the state limit per season per weapon, be it gun, bow or muzzle-loader.

“All the meat we brought back, we cut up and cleaned ourselves,” Deckard says.

The bear was ground into patties, and on this trip, Deckard says, his hunting party sampled hog and deer, as well as the bear, which was a new culinary experience, even for Deckard.

“I mainly wanted to taste it and see what it tastes like,” Deckard says. “It was different, but it was good.”

Arkansas was able to start allowing black bear hunting after a 1960s effort to reintroduce the animals, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, which is conducting its own multiyear study of the black bear population in Missouri.  

The study – a joint effort between the MDC, University of Missouri and Mississippi State University – is funded through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration program with help from Safari Club International, according to www.mdc.mo.gov. It aims to provide information about the movement patterns, population densities, habitat preferences and numbers of Missouri bears.

The study is in the first phase and will last up to three years, says Francis Skalicky, MDC spokesman in the Springfield office. During this phase, bears in southwest Missouri will be trapped and equipped with radio sensors for tracking, Skalicky says.

If his home state can reintroduce black bears and increase their population enough to allow hunting, Deckard says he would be more likely to take up the sport as a serious hobby. The cost of a license to hunt bear in Arkansas, the closest state with a bear season, ranges from $100 to $300, depending on the length of time.

“I like staying in the woods and I like eating the food, of course,” Deckard says. “And it’s just the fun of actually catching one.”

The moment before actually pulling the trigger with a bear, turkey or deer in his sights, he says, is one of the most exhilarating of any sport.

“It’s kind of relaxing to go sit in the woods and wait for something to come up, but kind of nervous if it’s going to be a bear,” Deckard says.

For Deckard to admit that he might have been a bit unnerved is something in itself. While living in Texas, he kept an alligator as a pet and used to catch rattlesnakes. He still considers snake collecting a hobby.

But concentration is key, Deckard says, when hunting bears.

“You can’t let your guard down. You have to have a firearm and have it loaded and ready to pull the trigger at any second,” Deckard says.[[In-content Ad]]

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