The Missouri Department of Conservation is seeking public input on a proposed limited hunting season for black bears in the state.
Laura Conlee, furbearer biologist, said a season could occur as soon as the fall of 2021. The season would be open only to Missouri residents.
The conservation department is asking for public comments through June 5.
She said during the last 50 years bear numbers in the Missouri Ozarks have increased significantly and today Missouri is home to between 540 and 840 black bears.
Most of the black bear population is found south of the Missouri River and is primarily south of Interstate 44.
In response, the conservation department is proposing to establish three Bear Management Zones in the state.
The northern portion of one of the zones includes Jackson and Lafayette counties, which are considered part of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
“With Missouri’s growing black bear population, MDC is proposing the development of a limited and highly regulated bear hunting season,” Conlee said. “The hunting season would provide Missouri residents with the opportunity to participate in the sustainable harvest of a valuable natural resource.”
She said black bears historically were abundant throughout the forested areas of Missouri prior to European settlement but were nearly eliminated by unregulated killing in the late 1800s as well as from habitat loss when the Ozark forests were logged.
However, a small number of Missouri black bears survived and reintroduction efforts in Arkansas also helped to increase their numbers in southern Missouri. In the last 50 years, bear numbers in the Missouri Ozarks have been increasing.
Conlee said that limited black bear hunting will be an essential part of population management in the future as Missouri’s bear numbers continue to grow.
The conservation department is proposing a limited hunting season for black bears in Missouri that would begin each year on the third Monday in October and run for 10 days or until management zone specific quotas are reached, whichever comes first.
Hunting hours would be a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
Harvest quotas for each of the three zones would be determined annually each spring. Quotas have not yet been established for the future season.
Once the specific harvest quotas are filled for each zone, the season for that area would be closed.
Hunters would need to call in each morning they intend to hunt to determine if the zone-specific quota has been reached. If harvest quotas are not reached, the season would close at the end of the 10 designated hunting days.
Hunters would be allowed to use both archery and firearms equipment with allowable methods being the same as those for deer and elk, except the use of an atlatl. Baiting and the use of dogs is not being allowed at this time but may be considered in the future.
The conservation department proposes to offer an annual online permit-application period each spring with a fee of $10 per applicant.
Individuals must be Missouri residents and would only be allowed to apply once per year to hunt in one of the three designated zones.
Permit selection would be determined each summer through a random drawing of all eligible applicants.
There would be no “sit-out” period for those selected to receive permits. There would be no preference points given, such as with managed deer hunts.
To ensure resident landowners within a zone have an opportunity to participate in the hunt, the department would propose that a minimum of 10% of zone-specific black bear hunting permits are awarded to qualifying landowners.
To be eligible, landowners would have to have submitted their Landowner Permit Application, would need to meet the same eligibility requirements for deer and turkey landowner permits and would need to have at least 20 contiguous acres within the zone for which they are applying.
The department would issue a limited number of hunting permits for each of the three zones. Each permit would be for a specific zone and could be used on public or private property within the area.
Those selected would be eligible to buy a permit at a cost of $25. A person would need to be 11 years of age or older and have completed hunter education by the time of the hunt to purchase a permit.
The harvest limit would be one bear per permit. Hunters would not be allowed to disturb, pursue or harvest any bear that has taken refuge in a den.
All harvested bears would need to be Telechecked by 10 p.m. on the day of harvest. Harvested bears would need to remain intact as a field-dressed carcass or quartered until the bear has been Telechecked.
The department would also require the submission of a tooth from each harvested bear within 10 days of harvest. This would help department staff with black-bear research and management.
Comments on the proposed season can be sent online through June 5 at mdc.mo.gov/bears.
Written comments can be mailed to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Attention Michele Baumer, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City MO 65102.
The conservation department then will review all public input and finalize recommendations for the proposed bear-hunting season for submission to the regulations committee in July.
Those recommendations would then move forward to the Missouri Conservation Commission for consideration in early September. The proposed rules would be published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Missouri Register and open for public comments through Nov. 15.