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Missouri hunters tagged 12 bears during the state’s first modern-era black bear hunt, which ended Oct. 27, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Only Missouri residents could apply for the 400 random-draw bear tags, with a harvest quota of just 40 bears. More than 6,330 hunters applied for those 400 permits, hoping to participate in the state’s first modern black bear hunt. There are an estimated 800 black bears in Missouri.

The 40-bear maximum limit was only about 5 percent of the state’s total bear population, according to Laura Conlee, MDC state furbearer and black bear biologist. The dozen bears that were harvested amount to a mere 1.5 percent of the total population of bruins.

“This was an incredibly successful first bear hunting season for Missouri given that we have a highly regulated season, that bears in the state are widely distributed throughout some pretty rugged wilderness, and that many hunters had never hunted bears before,” Conlee said in the press release. “A harvest of 12 bears in our first season is testament to the hunters. Bear hunting is an extremely challenging endeavor, especially under the framework that we established. This was a new experience for many hunters, and they put in the work to be successful and take advantage of this new hunting opportunity.” 

Three Missouri bear management zones were established in the southern half of the state, with harvest quotas of 20, 15, and five bears in those areas. Each permit was for a specific BMZ and could have been used on public or private property within the BMZ. According to the Associate Press, hunters took nine bears in southwest Missouri and three in the western zone. No bears were collected in a zone that stretched from southeast Missouri to St. Louis, the department said.

Missouri’s bear population has increased dramatically in the last 50 years, and the population is forecast to grow significantly more over the next decade. Despite the healthy recovery of the bear to a huntable population, there was a sizable backlash in national media coverage of the hunt.

Bear numbers in Missouri are increasing each year by approximately 9 percent, according to the MDC, and are expected to double in less than 10 years. MDC proposed the limited and highly-regulated black-bear hunting season following several years of public comment, including informational open houses in 2019 and a public-input process in the spring and fall of 2020. Eighty-seven percent of the 700 comments from residents at public meetings were in favor of the highly-regulated hunting season, and 89 percent found MDC’s black bear management plans to be reasonable.

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“Being able to add this iconic species to the long list of hunting opportunities for Missourians is a testament to the decades of bear research and management by MDC staff,” said MDC Director Sara Parker Pauley. “A limited annual hunting season helps manage the growing number of black bears in the state.”