Black bears are established in southeastern and east-central Oklahoma, but sightings are possible anywhere in the eastern half of the state and the western tip of the Panhandle. (USFWS)
Encountering a black bear in Oklahoma is a real possibility, a fact that still surprises many residents and visitors who never realized the animals are commonly seen in some parts of the state. Sightings are possible anywhere in the eastern half of the state and the western tip of the Panhandle. In the past few years, black bear sightings have been progressing farther west from the bears’ primary range in southeastern and east-central Oklahoma. In recent years, black bears have been seen in Ada and Wewoka, as far north as Grove, and as far west as Wayne. During summer months, the female bears, called sows, may have cubs in tow as they forage for food. The black bear's natural diet includes nuts, berries, grasses, insects, eggs, honey, small mammals and carrion. But bears are opportunists and can be attracted by easy food sources provided by people, such as unsecured garbage or pet food left outdoors.
When and where are human-bear conflicts most likely to occur?
- May is typically when bear reports begin coming in. These reports are weighted toward yearling, male bears that have just been kicked away from their mom and are trying to avoid mature males, find their own home range and keep their bellies full too.
- June & July may see a small drop in the number of calls because natural soft mast like blueberries & blackberries are becoming abundant.
- August is typically a high month for reports as soft mast sources diminish and grasses and other vegetation dry out or become unpalatable.
- Typically the first time a bear encounters a human space is at night. However, if they are rewarded by food sources and do not receive any negative stimuli from the night time visits, they may become more bold and visit during the day.
- Bears will typically visit human residences that are surrounded by easy to access escape cover. This means sparsely populated areas nestled in the woods or directly adjacent to a large timber block.
- Bears are most likely to risk exploring near a residence when there are attractants such as bird feeders, deer corn feeder, bee apiaries, pet food, etc.
To minimize the chances of attracting bears, always make sure that garbage is kept in sealed containers and pet food is not left outside. Never feed wild bears.
In areas where bears are common, you can help decrease the chances of a nuisance bear encounter by:
- Rinsing outdoor trash containers with ammonia to eliminate odors.
- Storing cooking grills inside, or cleaning them of food residue after each use.
- Considering taking down backyard bird feeders for the summer and early fall, as the birds have plenty of wild food sources during those months.
- Use electric fences to protect livestock, poultry and bee apiaries. Keep them at least 50 yards away from wooded areas.
For more information on how to keep bears wild visit bearwise.org.
Upon sighting a bear, experts say the best thing to do is to remain calm and leave the area to allow the bear to move along on its own. If a bear is encountered at close range, experts offer these safety tips:
- Do not turn and run, as that might elicit a chase response in the bear.
- Stand and face the bear, holding out your arms or jacket to appear as large as possible.
- Try to retreat slowly, but don't turn your back on the bear or block the bear’s escape route.
- If you cannot leave the area, make loud noises that could make the bear flee, such as yelling or banging on pots or pans.
Finally, anyone whose outdoor activities increase the chances of a bear encounter can carry bear spray with them. In the unlikely event a bear charges to attack, you should aggressively fight back against the bear, according to the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Do not attempt to “play dead” during a black bear attack, the agency says.
Report a Nuisance Black Bear
North of Interstate 40
- Senior Wildlife Biologist J.D. Ridge (918) 617-1113
- Wildlife Biologist Curt Allen at (918) 260-8959
South of Interstate 40
- Senior Wildlife Biologist Jeff Ford (918) 527-9918
- Wildlife Technician Matt Hensley (918) 260-3920
- Wildlife Technician Tres Phipps at (918) 527-9921
- Wildlife Biologist Weston Storer (806) 339-5175
- Wildlife Technician Cody Crisswell (806) 339-1487
Nuisance bears may also be reported to any local Game Warden.