TRENTON - Hunters will be out in force this week as New Jersey's latest bear hunt gets underway.
The six-day hunt was set to start at sunrise Monday in eight counties. The first three days are reserved for bow hunting, while hunting with bows and muzzle-loading guns will be allowed during the last three days.
Hunters must have permits for the zones where they plan to hunt. Roughly half of the 11,000 permits available overall had been sold by late last week.
State wildlife officials have touted the annual hunts as an important part of controlling the bear population and minimizing run-ins with humans. But animal-rights activists say the hunts are inhumane and unnecessary.
There are an estimated 2,400 to 2,800 bears in the eight counties where this week's hunt will take place.
State parks and wildlife-management areas will be open to hunting in Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex, and Warren Counties and in areas of Bergen, Mercer, Passaic, and Somerset Counties. Bow hunters are allowed on private property with the owner's permission, but can't fire arrows within 150 feet of a building.
New Jersey resumed state-regulated bear hunting in 2003 after a ban that lasted more than 30 years. Another hunt was held in 2005, and in 2010 the state instituted an annual hunt.
Whether the hunts continue in coming years will likely depend on who wins the election next month to succeed term-limited Gov. Christie. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the GOP gubernatorial candidate, says the hunts should continue, but Democrat Phil Murphy has said he would impose a moratorium.
The state's firearm-only season for bear hunting this year is scheduled for Dec. 4 to 9. Officials can extend the bear hunt if the harvest objectives are not met.