New Jersey’s annual bear hunt gets underway Monday, with very few people happy about its rules. Sportsmen are miffed it’s been banned from state lands, while hunting opponents are disappointed it’s happening at all.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said there has been an 80% reduction in the number of complaints about nuisance bears since 2010, when hunts became an annual occurrence. He says that had been the justification for having the hunt.

“We don’t believe the hunt is necessary or needed, that the bear population has been steadily declining to the point that we don’t believe the hunt is sustainable,” Tittel said.

The bear hunt gets started Monday in northwest New Jersey with three days of archery hunting, followed by three days in which muzzle-loading rifles are also allowed. A separate firearm-only hunt could be held in December, depending on how much bears are killed this week.

Gov. Phil Murphy says he opposes the bear hunt but can’t block it because of a bear management policy adopted by the Fish and Game Council before he took office. He has banned it from state lands, for the second straight season.

With the restriction in place, the number of participating hunters has declined. As of midday Sunday, around 7,100 of the 11,000 black bear hunting permits were still available. That’s roughly half the number of permits sold in some prior years.

Still, hunt opponents say that limitation is a half-measure by Murphy.

“It’s really just more of a rationalization, an excuse to have the hunt, that he’s trying to do something when he really isn’t,” Tittel said. “And that’s why we consider him a pander bear because he’s trying to have it all ways,” Tittel said.

Hunt opponents plan a protest in Middletown, where Murphy lives, on Saturday.

Fewer bears were killed in last year’s hunt, 225, than in any of the hunts held since 2003, when the season was reinstated after a decades-long absence. That included 140 bears during the October, six-day archery and muzzle-loader segment and 85 during the 10-day firearm season in December.

The current bear management plan was adopted in 2015, meaning a new five-year strategy would have to be adopted next year.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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