JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Conservation Commission recently gave final approval to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) for the state’s first black bear hunting season framework. The Commission finalized the hunting season framework and related regulations at its Dec. 11 open meeting in Jefferson City. The approved framework limits any future bear hunting to areas of southern Missouri and restricts bear hunting to Missouri residents only.
The next step to Missouri’s first bear season will be MDC presenting recommendations to the Commission in the spring of 2021 for a potential initial permit quota and harvest quota. If quotas are set, Missouri residents will be able to apply during May 2021 for an October 2021 fall hunt.
MDC proposed a limited and highly restrictive black-bear hunting season following several years of public comment, including informational open houses in 2019 and a public input process this past spring and fall.
According to MDC, over the last 50 years bear numbers in Missouri have increased significantly and today the state is home to between 540 – 840 black bears with bear range in the state expanding. MDC research shows that Missouri bear numbers are currently increasing each year by approximately 9% and at this rate Missouri’s bear population is expected to double in less than 10 years. Additionally, Missouri’s bear population is connected to a larger bear population in the surrounding states of Arkansas and Oklahoma, both of which have established bear-hunting seasons.
“A bear-hunting season in our state will provide opportunities for Missourians to participate in the sustainable harvest of this valuable wildlife species,” said MDC Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee. “As our black bear population continues to grow, a highly regulated hunting season will be an essential part of population management in the future. The timing and length of the season, allowed hunting methods, and a limited permit allocation coupled with a limited harvest quota will ensure a sustainable harvest of our growing bear population.”
Missouri’s estimated 540-840 black bears are found south of the Missouri River, and primarily south of Interstate 44. With this in mind, MDC has established three Bear Management Zones (BMZ) in southern Missouri. MDC will issue a limited number of hunting permits for each of the three BMZs. Each permit will be for a specific BMZ and may be used only on public or private property within the BMZ.
The limited hunting season will be restricted to Missouri residents only and will begin each year on the third Monday in October and run for 10 days or until BMZ-specific quotas are reached, whichever comes first.
Harvest quotas for each of the three BMZs will be determined annually each spring by the Conservation Commission based on recommendations by MDC. Quotas have not yet been established for the potential 2021 season. Once the specific harvest quotas are filled for each BMZ, the season for that BMZ will be closed.
Hunters must call MDC each day before they intend to hunt to determine if the BMZ-specific quota has been reached. If harvest quotas are not reached, the season will close at the end of the 10 designated hunting days.
Hunting hours will be a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour hour after sunset. Hunters will 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 will not be allowed.
The harvest limit will be one bear per permit. 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 others bears, including female black bears with cubs.
Bear hunters must wear hunter orange, make reasonable efforts to retrieve shot bears, and must not leave or abandon commonly edible portions.
All harvested bears must be telechecked by 10 p.m. on the day of harvest. Harvested bears must remain intact as a field-dressed carcass or quartered until the bear has been telechecked.
MDC will also require the submission of a tooth from each harvested bear within 10 days of harvest. This will help MDC staff with black bear research and management.
If an annual harvest quota is approved, MDC will offer an online bear-hunting permit-application period May 1-31 with a fee of $10 per applicant. Individuals must be Missouri residents and will be allowed to apply to hunt in one of the three designated BMZs.
Permit selection will be determined by July 1 each summer through a random drawing of all eligible applicants. There will be no “sit-out” period for those selected to receive permits.
Those selected will then be eligible to buy a permit at a cost of $25. Selected hunters must 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.
MDC is not issuing separate, landowner-specific black bear hunting permits, however, a minimum of 10 percent of permits will be allocated to qualifying landowners. To qualify, landowners must 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 at mdc.mo.gov/landownerpermits before completing a black bear permit application.
The black bear is one of the largest and heaviest wild mammals in Missouri with some reaching up to 500 pounds. Black bears were historically 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. Over the last 50 years, bear numbers and range in Missouri have grown. Missouri is now home to between 540 – 840 black bears with the population expected to double in less than 10 years. MDC’s 2020-2030 Black Bear Management Plan will guide bear management in Missouri for the next decade. Learn more about black bears in Missouri and MDC management efforts at mdc.mo.gov/bears.