TRENTON – Hunters across New Jersey are making final preparations for the state’s next black bear hunt, which also may be the last one the state holds for some time.
While a formal decision won’t be made until next year, the hunt’s future seemed to be sealed on election night, when Democrat Phil Murphy — who has called for a moratorium on the hunts — won the gubernatorial race.
The state’s firearm-only season is scheduled for Dec. 4 to 9. It comes just weeks after 243 bears were killed during a six-day hunt staged mostly in northern New Jersey. The first three days of the last hunt were reserved for bow hunting, with bows and muzzle-loading guns allowed the final three days.
New Jersey resumed state-regulated bear hunting in 2003 after a ban that lasted more than 30 years. Another hunt was held in 2005, and in 2010 the state made it annual.
WHY IS A HUNT HELD?
State wildlife officials have touted the annual hunts as an important part of controlling the bear population and minimizing run-ins with humans.
Black bears serve an important role in healthy ecosystems. They can travel great distances and disperse the seeds of many different plant species while feeding on fruits and berries. They can also clear out small amounts of vegetation while foraging, which opens up space for other plants.
But officials say there are concerns some may be going hungry due to the bear population density being too high. Animal rights activists and other critics say the hunts are inhumane and unnecessary. They also argue that the number of bear-human incidents is down.
The firearm-only bear hunt will be held alongside the six-day firearm deer season. State officials have the option to extend the hunt to the following week if there aren’t enough bears killed.
Hunters must have a permit to hunt in one of the five bear hunting zones. They can obtain permits for two separate zones. State wildlife officials have estimated that 3,500 bears live in New Jersey north of Interstate 80.
Officials expect state policy to change once Murphy takes office in January.
Murphy won the seat earlier this month when he defeated Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who had called for the hunts to continue. During the campaign, Murphy said he would impose a moratorium on the hunt and criticized Republican Gov. Chris Christie for holding hunts every year since he took office.
Murphy says that before authorizing another hunt, the state needs a “fuller understanding and proof” that they work better than nonlethal options in the state’s long-term bear management policies.
BEAR AS FOOD
Experts say bear meat should be butchered within hours of the kill. They recommend that people slow-cook it, marinate it or use is as a ground meat.
To help hunters and cooks with their food preparations, the state Department of Environmental Protection has a “bear cookbook” on its website. It includes information on how to butcher the bear and safely cook the meat, along with recipes including spiced bear tenderloin, sweet and sour bear pot roast, spicy bratwurst-style bear sausage and bear gumbo.
Many hunters also donate some or all of the meat from their kills to food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters through state and local programs.
MOUNTED BEARS/BEAR RUGS
Once a bear is killed and checked in with state officials at designated sites, most hunters will head to a butcher shop to have the meat removed.
If they also want to memorialize the bear, their next stop is often a taxidermy shop, where the bruins are mounted or their hides are turned into rugs.
Some jobs can take a few months to complete and will cost a few thousand dollars, while some work will only cost the hunter a few hundred dollars.