The Missouri Conservation Commission has approved a proposed hunting framework by the Missouri Department of Conservation for a future black bear season in the state.
The commission approved the framework at its Sept. 4 open meeting in Jefferson City and is asking for final public input from Oct. 16 through Nov. 14.
If the season framework reaches final approval by the commission and a permit and harvest quota is established, the earliest a season could occur is fall 2021 and it would be limited to Missouri residents.
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 Ozark forests were logged.
However, a small number of Missouri black bears survived, and reintroduction efforts in Arkansas helped to increase bear numbers in southern Missouri.
According to the conservation department, in the last 50 years bear numbers in the Missouri Ozarks have increased significantly. Today Missouri is home to between 540 to 840 black bears.
Missouri bear numbers are increasing each year by approximately 9% and the bear’s range in the state is expanding. The bear population is expected to double in less than 10 years.
In addition, Missouri’s bear population is connected to a larger bear population in the surrounding states of Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Laura Conless, furbearer biologist, said Arkansas and Oklahoma also have established bear hunting seasons.
“With Missouri’s growing black bear population, a limited and highly regulated black bear hunting season will be an essential part of population management in the future as Missouri’s bear numbers continue to grow,” Conlee said. “The timing and length of the season, restrictive methods and permit allocation coupled with a harvest quota will initially be limited to ensure a sustainable harvest of our growing bear population.”
She said most of Missouri’s black bears are found south of the Missouri River and primarily south of Interstate 44. With this in mind, MDC has proposed three Bear Management Zones in southern Missouri.
The limited hunting season would begin each year on the third Monday in October and run for 10 days or until BMZ-specific quotas are reached, whichever comes first.
Hunting hours would be a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
She said harvest quotas for each of the three BMZs would be determined annually each spring by the conservation commission based on recommendations by the conservation department. Quotas have not been established for the potential future season.
Once the specific harvest quotas are filled for each BMZ, the season for that area would be closed.
Hunters would need to call in before each morning they intend to hunt to determine if the BMZ-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 would not be allowed at this time but may be considered in the future.
The harvest limit would be one bear per permit. Under the proposed regulations, bears may not be disturbed, pushed, harassed or taken from a den. Only lone black bears may be taken. Hunters may not take bears that are known to be in the presence of other bears, including female black bears with cubs.
Bear hunters must wear hunter orange, make reasonable efforts to retrieve shot bears and must use commonly edible portions.
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 conservation department also would 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.
The conservation department will offer an annual online permit-application period from May 1 to 31 each spring with a fee of $10 per applicant. Individuals must be Missouri residents and would be allowed to apply once per year to hunt in one of the three designated BMZs.
Permit selection would be determined by July 1 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.
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, or be exempt, by the time of the hunt to purchase a permit.
The conservation department would issue a limited number of hunting permits for each of the three BMZs. Each permit would be for a specific BMZ and could be used on public or private property within the BMZ. There would not be a separate landowner-specific black bear hunting permit.
Black bear hunting permits would be awarded through a random draw with a minimum of 10% reserved for qualifying landowners. To qualify for the landowner allocation, landowners would need to have at least 20 contiguous acres within the BMZ for which they are applying.
Qualifying landowners must first submit their property information through MDC’s Landowner Permit Application before completing a black bear hunting permit application.
The commission-proposed regulations for the hunting framework will be published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Missouri Register and open for public comments Oct. 16 through Nov. 14 at mdc.mo.gov/about-regulations/wildlife-code-missouri/proposed-regulation-changes.
Comments received will then be summarized and presented for final consideration at the commission’s December meeting. If approved, the new regulations would become effective Feb. 28, 2021.