On Dec. 11 the commission accepted the proposal to create three bear management zones south of the Missouri River. In the spring that same governing body will consider recommended quotas for the maximum number of hunters who will participate and the number of bears they may take in each zone.
This summer five residents were selected to participate in the first approved elk hunt in the state. None of them harvested a bull during the archery portion of the hunt Oct. 17-25, but all five were able to fill their tags during the firearms portion Dec. 12-20.
The five permits were awarded in random drawings with four selected from 19,182 applicants. The fifth permit was awarded to a landowner in the elk restoration area. That lucky hunter was randomly selected from 33 qualified property owners who applied.
Elk were a native species across the country from California to New York, but unregulated hunting in Missouri wiped out the big animals in the state by the late 1800s. Restoration efforts began in 2011 when the first group of elk were captured in Kentucky and transported to the Peck Ranch Conservation Area between Ellington and Winona. Additional elk arrived from the Bluegrass State in 2012 and 2013, bringing the total number of imports to 108.
The herd has continued to grow since and property improvements have been made on public and private land between Highways 19 and 21 in southeast Missouri. Much of the property inside the Elk Restoration Zone is in the Mark Twain National Forest and includes the state-owned Current River Conservation Area in addition to the Peck Ranch.
The bear hunting season will be open in a larger portion of the state, but it too will be highly regulated. Unlike the elk restoration program, the bear population has exploded in the state without the importation of stock from other states. The bears have moved up from Arkansas and Oklahoma on their own.
The population of black bears in Missouri is estimated between 540 and 840 and is growing at about 9 percent per year. The management plan will use quotas and hunters to regulate that expansion with adjustments each year. The three zones will be managed independently and could be closed if the numbers decline unexpectedly. Once harvest quotas are reached in each zone, that area will be closed to hunting for the year.
After the quotas are set for hunters and bears in each zone, Missouri residents will be able to apply for permits in May. The hunting season will begin on the third Monday of October and last for 10 days or until the quota in the zone is met. The application fee for a bear hunting permit will be $10 and those selected will pay $25 for their license.
Like the elk, which lived in the state long before the European settlers arrived, black bears were abundant in Missouri until market hunting and habitat destruction nearly eliminated them.
John Winkelman is Marketing Director for Liguori Publications near Barnhart, Mo., and the Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas to share for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail email@example.com, and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.