Monday, December 8 is the start of New Jersey’s Six-day Firearm Deer Season. The Six-day or traditional “buck” season runs this year through December 13. The New Jersey black bear hunting season is held concurrently with the Six-day Firearm Deer Season in an area west of I-287 and north of I-78.
The deer season bag limit is two antlered deer. Bowhunters may also harvest a buck during the Six-day Firearm season with a bow, as long as they have a current bow and firearm license, or all-around license.
Participants in New Jersey’s black bear hunting season are required to have a Black Bear Hunting Area Permit for the area they hunt in and a current Firearm or All-around Hunting License. There are four bear hunting areas open to hunting in New Jersey; hunters are restricted to hunt only in the area for which they possess a permit. Hunters may possess permits for two separate areas but are limited to one black bear for the season.
There are about 2,500 bears in the state down from 3,400 in 2010 when the state’s controversial bear hunt resumed after being absent for 5 years. Last year, 251 bears were harvested, 287 in 2012, 469 bears in 2011 and 592 bears were harvested in 2010.
Since the 1980’s the Garden State’s black bear population has increased and expanded its range both southward and eastward from the forested areas of northwestern New Jersey. Within the most densely populated state in the nation, black bears are thriving and have been confirmed in all 21 of New Jersey’s counties.
The most common bear problem New Jersey’s residents experience is black bears getting into their garbage. Bears are attracted to neighborhoods by garbage odors, so properly securing your garbage is one of the best ways to prevent bears from becoming a nuisance in your community.
As bears head toward winter hibernation, they need to eat 20,000 calories per day; garbage that hasn’t been bear-proofed is an easy target. According to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, “the main source of unnatural foods for black bears in New Jersey is garbage.” Animal-rights activists and state officials say that bear-proof trash cans and other conditioning techniques could limit or eliminate the need for a hunt.
On September 21, 2014, a fatal predatory black bear attack occurred in West Milford, Passaic County, resulting in the death of a 22-year old male student from Rutgers University. It is the first documented bear fatality in New Jersey’s history.
Though extremely rare, (63 since 1900) such fatal predatory attacks do occur throughout black bear habitat in North America, including New York, Virginia, and other East Coast states. Predatory attacks can occur with little or no warning, unlike the actions of a bear that considers a person too close or threatening and may signal its unease by emitting a series of threatening huffs or popping sounds by snapping its jaws and/or swatting the ground.
Most bear attacks are done by predatory males and not by mother bears protecting their cubs as most people believe.
The public is advised that this tragic event is far from the typical of usual bear/human interaction that occurs in New Jersey. While most bears will avoid people entirely if aware of their presence, the high bear density in New Jersey, particularly in the northern counties, and widespread human development and density, means people often come into contact with bears. It is best to know what to do and what not to do in an encounter with a bear and to try and avoid encounters in the first place.
“Black bear sightings and incidents across the state, in general, have declined for the past few years, especially as we reduce the number of bears overall and people better understand how to co-exist with them,’’ said Dave Chanda, director of the State Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Still, bears continue to break into homes, invade campsites, kill livestock, family pets and rummage through people’s garbage. Many have lost their fear of man, not running from loud noises, such as the banging of pots and pans, and some have even walked across shooting ranges during target practice.
You can reduce the risk of interactions with bears by taking a few simple steps. Most important, do not feed bears, intentionally or unintentionally. Bears that learn to associate food with people, and their homes and living areas, can become nuisance bears that forage in neighborhoods looking for easy sources of food.
It is illegal to intentionally feed black bears in New Jersey and punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. But a more common problem is unintentional bear feeding by homeowners. By taking a few easy steps, you can dramatically reduce the potential of bear encounters. Secure your trash and eliminate obvious sources of food, such as pet food on decks, easy-to-reach bird feeders, or food residues left in barbecue grills. In areas regularly frequented by bears, livestock and beehives should be protected with properly installed electric fences.
Report black bear damage or nuisance behavior to the DEP’s 24-hour, toll-free hotline at 1-877-WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337).