Thousands of hunters of all ages are out in New Jersey's woods today for the state's six day black bear hunt.

About 6,400 hunters have obtained permits to shoot the animals in hopes of reducing the state's black bear population, estimated to be about 3,400.

Animal rights groups have protests planned at the Franklin check station, despite being denied a permit request last week by the state Department of Environmental Protection. DEP officials cited public safety concerns and lack of space at the Sussex site and offered two alternate locations. The groups head back to court this morning hoping to win the right to demonstrate there.

New Jersey officials estimate between 300 and 500 bears will be killed during the hunt, which kicked off at sunrise in seven northwestern counties.

Last year, 592 bears were harvested.

Dave Chanda, spokesman for the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, says the hunt is needed to stabilize and reduce the bear population, "while bear complaints are down this year, sightings are up...black bears are found in all 21 counties and they're expanding their range so as they get into some of the new areas in Monmouth or Ocean counties, the minute someone sees them, they call it in...but the nuisance bears, which are the ones attacking livestock and getting into people's trash, those are down and that's what you would expect with a hunt like this."

Right now it's a waiting game at the Pequest Wildlife Management Area in Oxford, Warren County, as state officials and members of the media wait for the first hunters to come back.