The New Jersey black bear hunting season has been held concurrently with the Six-day Firearm Deer Season since 2010. This year the dates of the 2015 season are December 7 through December 12.
Beginning this year a fifth bear hunting area is now open to hunting in New Jersey. Hunters are still restricted to hunt only in the area(s) for which they possess a permit. They may possess permits for two separate areas but are limited to one black bear for the season. Hunters are required to have a Black Bear Hunting Area Permit for the area(s) they hunt in and a current Firearm or All-around Hunting License.
This past year the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection formally adopted a black bear management policy that includes a continuation of the annual December hunting season, with expanded zones in areas where bear incidents have been increasing, and establishes an October hunting season beginning next year.
“Hunting is an important tool in maintaining an ecological balance with our black bear population and is necessary to reduce the potential for conflicts between bears and people, particularly in northwestern New Jersey, which has the states densest bear population,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “The comprehensive policy we have adopted is based on the most up-to-date science and population estimates, and continues to stress the importance of research and public education.”
The hunting zone approved in 2010 encompassed a 1,000-square-mile area of northwestern New Jersey. This area included all or portions of Hunterdon, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties, and a small portion of Bergen County.
Effective this year, the current zones in which hunting is permitted will be expanded to include the remainders of Hunterdon and Morris counties, a small additional portion of Passaic County, and a small portion of Mercer County. Bear hunting will also be extended to all of Somerset County, with the exception of Franklin. These expansions will help control the population in areas where reports of bear and human encounters have been increasing due to bears expanding their habitat.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife is also expanding its education efforts in these areas to help residents and local officials understand bear behavior and reduce potential for conflicts.
Highlights of the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy:
- Continues the annual six-day December firearm hunting season. The hunt may be extended by up to four days if poor weather or other conditions result in a reduced harvest.
- An additional six-day October hunting season beginning in 2016, three days for bow hunting only and three days for bow hunting and hunting with muzzle-loading guns. Bow hunting will enable hunting of nuisance bears that can be difficult to hunt by gun in certain areas.
- Increases the allowable per-hunter harvest from one bear to two bears beginning next year, provided the first bear is taken during the October bow/muzzle-loading hunt and the second is taken during the December firearm hunt.
- Begins the process of developing an estimate for a statewide bear population.
- Re-emphasizes the importance of ongoing public education efforts, trash management and research. Efforts will be focused on urban areas and parts of the state where bears are expanding their range.
There were a total of 272 bears harvested in New Jersey in 2014, 21 more than the year before. The black bear population in northwestern New Jersey is estimated to be at 3,600, about the same as when the 2010 hunt was first authorized. The population has not decreased significantly because reproduction rates have exceeded mortality from hunting and natural causes. The number of bears harvested in the five hunts has steadily dropped from 592 in the first season, to fewer than 300 animals in subsequent seasons, due in large part to poor weather at that time of year and a more wary bear population.
In addition, the December hunt coincides with the time when bears are becoming less active and beginning to den. The December hunt, concurrent with the annual firearm deer hunting season, was purposely planned for this time of year to be conservative as biologists assessed the first five years of hunting.
Also, a six-day archery and muzzleloader hunting season will begin in October, 2016. The first three days of this segment will be archery only; the last three days will be archery and muzzleloader. Archery is a safe and effective hunting method used in all states with bear hunting seasons and will provide increased opportunity for bear hunters in New Jersey. Current statutes allow archers to hunt no less than 150 feet from a dwelling, which is closer than is allowed for firearm hunting (450 feet). Since many bears spend part of their time close to dwellings, archery hunting is expected to increase the percentage of nuisance bears harvested during the bear season. Muzzleloaders have been used safely and effectively for bear hunting during past December seasons.