By KELLY BOSTIAN | Tulsa World
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Archery season opens in less than a month and hunters are busy now putting up their deer feeders.
“You could call them bear feeders as easily,” said Craig Endicott, northeast region wildlife supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“What I’m calling them now is wildlife feeders because they feed all kinds of wildlife and that’s not just deer,” he said.
Bears destroying deer feeders is not something new in Oklahoma. It is a rapidly expanding issue, however. The Wildlife Department is trying to spread awareness, Endicott said. An article this month in the Wildlife Department’s Outdoor Oklahoma magazine has a distribution map and details of ongoing black bear studies, the Tulsa World reported.
Feeders pose a particular problem, however.
“We’re already getting calls about bears on feeders this season,” Endicott said.
A homeowner in the Tenkiller Lake area recently reported a “nuisance bear” in a backyard, he said. It was coming to a deer feeder.
“A lot of people like to put up feeders in their backyard. They like to see the deer and the turkeys,” he said.
If a bear starts showing up, it’s not a nuisance, however. It just means it’s time to remove the feeder or empty it until the bear moves along.
“That’s how a lot of nuisance bear problems start,” he said. “They get on a food source and they lose their fear of people. Then they start looking around the house for other things to eat.”
A drum full of corn is not the only kind of feeder that attracts a bear. Bird feeders filled with seed, suet or even nectar for hummingbirds can be a draw.
Shooting a black bear drawn in by feeding is not an option. It is illegal without the proper licenses and anywhere outside the archery and black-powder seasons in the designated four-county hunting area in McCurtain, Pushmataha, Latimer and LeFlore counties.
For deer hunters on remote parcels, the issue is more a safety and feeder-repair issue. Many go the route of trying to bear-proof their feeders. Some abandon feeders and switch to mineral blocks and food plots. It makes them less nervous when they walk to their deer stand in the dark.
Jack DeLaughter has feeders on his ranch located near the Arkansas border, just north of the Ouachita Mountains and south of Stilwell. He’s just outside the four-county area for legal bear hunting and has fought the bears-and-feeders battle since 2006.
“I’ve lost $400 in corn feeders already this year,” he said.
He chuckles at the notion of “bear-proofing.” He mounts feeders suspended on chains and heavy cables between trees and hoists them aloft with boat winches. He has hoisted them on poles set in concrete, as well.
“Bear-proof” feeder plans are plentiful online.
“I think they took most of those ideas from me!” DeLaughter said with a laugh. “They work, up to a point.”
Success in bear-proofing all depends on the size and determination of the bear in question, he said. Anyone who has had issues with raccoons knows how challenging it can be to protect a feeder from damage. Think of a black bear as a 250-pound raccoon.
“They’ll climb the tree and hang on those cables,” DeLaughter said. “Sometimes they’ll get ‘hold of a cable or whatever and just keep yanking on it until something finally pulls loose.”
Recently he has had some luck using perforated oil-field pipe for his uprights. The holes in the pipes have sharp burrs on them where the holes are drilled.
“I think they don’t like the feel of those burrs on their paws,” he said.
Photos from his trail cameras show the bears he’s dealt with are big, long, tall and agile enough to reach a feeder hanging 10 feet high, anyway.
“We try to put them as high up as we can,” he said.
Overall, the word is that Oklahoma is bear country, and that shouldn’t come as too big a surprise. Bears are clever, strong and adaptable.
The Black Bear Society lists hunting seasons in 31 of the contiguous states, not counting Florida, which recently announced a season to open Oct. 24, the first time since 1994.
It means those 32 states not only have bears, they have enough that they see a need to cut back a little or at least enough that they feel compelled to offer authorized hunting opportunities on a sustained yield basis.
Oklahoma is part of that picture, and it’s a part of bear country.
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com