Black Bear Management in Missouri

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Get information on black bears in Missouri, MDC black-bear research projects and management efforts, MDC’s black bear management plan, hunting opportunities, and how to handle conflicts with nuisance bears. 

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Black Bear Hunting in Missouri

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Black Bear Management Plan (2020–2030)
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MDC recently updated the Black Bear Management Plan. The updated plan illustrates the multifaceted approach to black bear management within Missouri. This includes using research to inform management decisions, increasing statewide awareness of Missouri’s bear population, and a high priority on minimizing and addressing human-bear conflict as the population grows. The three goals of the updated plan include:

Goal 1

Use science-based methods to manage a self-sustaining population of black bear, focusing on research and monitoring, population management, and habitat management.

Goal 2

Increase statewide awareness of Missouri’s black bear population and management program through coordinated outreach and public education.

Goal 3

Minimize and address human-bear conflicts.

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We want to hear from you about bears in Missouri!
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Missouri’s black bear population is growing and expanding. Bears sightings are becoming more common and widespread, as is nuisance activity. Report bear sightings.

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Bear Expansion

Missouri’s bear population is growing in size and expanding in range.

Primary bear range is forested areas south of I-44.

Expansion areas are regions where bear reports are becoming more frequent. Most reports in these areas are of male bears, although some females and breeding have been documented in or very near expansion areas. Expansion areas are near Lake of the Ozarks, south/west of St. Louis, near Poplar Bluff.

Current Population

Research indicates that Missouri is home to approximately 800 (600 - 1000) black bears.

The bear population estimate is derived from a model that uses data collected from our bear den research project including female survival, cub production, cub survival and litter sex ratios.

The population estimate includes a range because it is impossible to know exactly how many bears there are in the state (can’t count each one) and the model takes into account the variability in survival and production.

Bear Hunting

MDC has recently established a limited and highly regulated black bear hunting season. Find more information here.

See below for Frequently Asked Questions related to Missouri’s black bear population and hunting season.

Managing Human-Bear Conflict

Human-bear conflict is increasing with the growing bear population. Attraction to food is the most frequent source of human-bear conflict. Removing or securing food attractants is key to preventing the majority of human-bear conflicts, including:

  • Bring in birdfeeders.
  • Keep trash secure. Store in a secure outbuilding, secure container, or behind electric fencing. Put trash out the morning of pick-up.
  • Do not leave pet food or livestock feed out unattended. Store pet food or livestock feed in secure outbuildings, secure containers, or behind electric fencing.
  • Protect bee hives with electric fencing. Be sure fencing is maintained.
  • Online resources are available to provide guidance on proper fencing.
  • Bears are long-lived and have an exceptional memory. They will often revisit locations where they received food in previous years. Simply removing the food source for a day or two is not sufficient as bears will often return.

MDC has tools available to aversively condition persistent bears.

  • Aversive conditioning provides a negative stimulus to the bear in hopes that it associates the negative experience with the behavior it was doing (generally seeking food). Rubber bullets, paint balls, bean bag rounds, cracker shells, and tasers are tools that can be used by trained MDC staff.
  • Aversive conditioning discourages a bear from returning but may be temporary. Removing the attractant is required to ensure bears do not have continued access to food.

If you experience damage or nuisance activity from a bear, contact your MDC Regional Office or your local Conservation Agent.

Be Bear Aware

Don’t feed bears — intentionally or accidentally. A fed bear is a dead bear – when bears lose their fear of people (often by receiving food), they may become bold in search of food. This can result in bears approaching people or breaking into homes/garages/etc to find food. Bears that exhibit bold behavior are often euthanized.

  • Most human-bear conflicts are related to food:  Bird feeders, garbage, pet food, grills/smokers, etc. can attract bears to homes — remove or secure these food attractants.
  • When camping or hiking in bear country, be bear aware. Store food in secure containers, keep a clean camp and keep cooking and sleeping areas separate.

If you see a bear, enjoy the encounter from a distance, give the bear an escape route and never run.

  • Bears retreat up trees when they feel threatened. If you see a bear up a tree, leave the area and let the bear come down when it is ready. Do not try to photograph the bear or get closer.
  • Bears may explore tree stands out of curiosity or attraction to cover scents or food. If you are hunting and a bear approaches the base of your tree stand, immediately alert the bear of your presence – make noise, stand up, make your face visible.

Bear attacks on humans are extremely rare but can occur. Being Bear Aware helps keep you safe.

Report bear sightings to MDC at www.mdc.mo.gov/reportbears. If you experience damage or nuisance activity from a bear, contact your MDC Regional Office or your local Conservation Agent.

Questions?

Contact Laura Conlee, MDC Furbearer Biologist, 573-815-7900, ext. 2903, Laura.conlee@mdc.mo.gov (link sends e-mail).

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How many bears are in Missouri?

Missouri is home to approximately 800 black bears. Missouri’s bear population is part of a much larger population of about 8,000 bears in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. 

How does MDC manage bears in Missouri?

Bear management is guided by MDC’s Black Bear Management Plan which is an update from a plan previously developed in 2008. The Black Bear Management Plan takes a multifaceted approach to managing Missouri’s growing bear population and has 3 primary goals:

  • Goal 1: Use science-based methods to manage a self-sustaining population of black bear, focusing on research and monitoring, population management, and habitat management.
  • Goal 2: Increase statewide awareness of Missouri’s black bear population and management program through coordinated outreach and public education.
  • Goal 3: Minimize and address human-bear conflicts.

Should I report bear sightings to MDC?

Yes! Reports can be submitted to mdc.mo.gov/reportbears. MDC uses reports submitted by the public to track black bear range expansion and nuisance issues.

Will a hunting season endanger Missouri’s bear population?

No. Missouri is home to a growing bear population that is part of a much larger population of bears in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The Department wants to ensure the continued persistence of Missouri’s black bear population. We will continue to monitor the bear population and would adjust hunting regulations should a need arise, as we do with other species.

MDC established a very conservative hunting season that restricts harvest in 3 ways:

  • MDC established zone-specific harvest quotas— only a specified number of bears can be taken from each zone.
    • If harvest is at or exceeds 80% of the Bear Management Zone specific-harvest quota, the director can close the season prior to the quota being achieved.
      • This provision helps to ensure that overharvest does not occur.
  • MDC established zone-specific permit quota — only a specified number of hunters would be allowed to bear hunt.
  • The hunting season is only 10 days long. If the quota is not achieved, the season would close.

Conservative permit and harvest quotas were established to provide for maximum hunter opportunity while allowing for continued black bear population growth. Zone-specific harvest quotas are not a target harvest, but rather a cap on harvest. Additionally, these quotas were set conservatively, such that any harvest over the quota would not be detrimental to the persistence of Missouri’s bear population.

Why did MDC establish a bear hunting season now?

The Conservation Department has determined that the state’s bear population can sustain a limited and highly regulated harvest. This provides opportunity for Missourians to participate in the sustainable harvest of a valuable natural resource, while also allowing for the bear population to continue to grow. Additionally, as bear numbers continue to increase, hunting will serve as an essential component of black bear population management.

How did MDC determine harvest and permit quotas?

The population model which is used to estimate Missouri’s bear population was used to model the impacts of various harvest levels on the trajectory of the bear population. Based on these harvest simulations, it was determined that a total harvest quota of 40 bears would provide sufficient hunter opportunity while allowing for continued growth of the bear population. Black bears are not evenly distributed across the landscape, and preliminary spatial distribution models were used to distribute the 40-bear harvest quota across bear management zones. Establishing BMZ-specific harvest quotas will spatially distribute the impacts of harvest while providing for meaningful hunter opportunity.

Black bear hunting is inherently different from that of other commonly sought-after game species (deer, elk, turkey) and thus success rates for black bear hunters are low, especially when bait and dogs are not allowed. Black bear hunter success rates vary from state to state, but in areas that prohibit the use of bait or dogs, hunter success rates are generally below about 12%. To determine permit quotas, we used an estimated 10% hunter success rate and the proposed zone-specific harvest quotas. In doing this, we hope to provide for maximum hunter opportunity while limiting the number of hunters to keep within the proposed zone-specific harvest quotas.

How many bears will be allowed to be harvested?

Black Bear Management Zone-specific harvest quotas are as follows:
BMZ 1: 20 bears
BMZ 2: 15 bears
BMZ 3: 5 bears

Is Missouri’s bear hunting season a “trophy season”?

No, Missouri’s bear hunting season is not a trophy season. Bear meat is a high-quality wild protein and the Wildlife Code of Missouri specifically states, “No person who takes or possesses any wildlife shall wantonly leave or abandon any portion of such wildlife commonly used as human food”. Bear hunters are bound by this requirement. Additionally, MDC will develop educational materials such as web-based information, videos, or classes to teach hunters about proper cleaning and use of bear meat to ensure wise-use of the resource.

Will I be able to use the woods/trails/rivers of the Ozarks during the bear hunting season?

Yes, other outdoor users can share the woods with bear hunters. Various types of outdoor enthusiasts share the woods with a variety of hunters (deer, turkey, squirrel, waterfowl, rabbit, furbearers) during the fall months. The number of bear hunters in the woods will be low compared to deer or turkey hunters. Bear hunters are required to wear hunter orange under the regulations. Other outdoor enthusiasts can wear hunter orange when in the woods, so they are visible to others. Trails in Missouri would remain open during the bear season as they do during other hunting seasons.