TRENTON — Hunters killed a total of 328 bears in the first segment of New Jersey's black bear hunt, more than were bagged during last year's entire hunt and in what could be the final year for the hunt, as announced by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The state's Division of Fish & Wildlife says 42 bruins were culled on Saturday, the sixth and concluding day of the hunt.

Hunters had been restricted to using archery for the first three days, but starting Thursday they were also allowed to use muzzleloading rifles.

The hunt is restricted to Sussex, Warren, Passaic, Morris, Bergen, Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer counties. Sussex County accounted for 147 of the 328 bears killed.

Hunting is prohibited in state parks, forests and wildlife management areas.

The 328 bears killed so far this year account for a 10.6% cumulative harvest rate, based on state DEP data.

The second segment of the hunt, for firearms only, is scheduled to begin on Dec. 7.

In the event that the number of bears killed after that four-day span does not meet a minimum of 20% harvest of bears tagged this year, the season would be extended four days during the following week in December, according to the Division of Fish & Wildlife guidelines.

Hunters bagged 315 bears during the 2019 hunt, most killed in Sussex County, which included a four-day extension based on the harvest rate objective.

Murphy has said this year could be the last for the bear hunt, which the Democrat pledged to end when he ran for governor in 2017. Murphy cited a new bear management plan that the state Fish and Game Council was studying.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no bear check stations are available. Hunters must tag their kills and call a number for instructions.

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