Story by Tom P

The archery and archery/muzzleloader season for black bear runs from this Monday, October 9th through Saturday, October 14th (segment A) in the five bear management zones (BMZs) located in (or portions thereof) Sussex, Warren, Morris, Passaic, Hunterdon and Bergen counties.

The first three days are restricted to archery-only (longbow, recurve, compound, crossbow), with the final three days a mix of bows and muzzleloaders (.44 caliber minimum). All are extremely effective and efficient tools when it comes to anchoring a bruin. During the B segment which runs in conjunction with the statewide firearms deer season December 4th-9th, muzzleloaders and shotguns (20, 16, 12 and 10 gauge) are the only legal arms, and the shotguns must be loaded with slugs only.

Bear hunting permits cost $2 and are available at license issuing agents through October 14th and then again from November 1st through December 9th. One bruin per segment is allowed.

The Garden State is truly a bear hunting destination, drawing non-resident sportsmen and women as far away as Hawaii, and also attracts a number from foreign countries. The quality of the bruins is why: males (boars) are averaging 395 pounds, with females (sows) coming in at 185 pounds. These weights are mean figures from bears taken during the hunting seasons as well as during den research and trap and re-location efforts of nuisance bruins. The current state record weighed an amazing 829.5 pounds, was 13 years old and was downed in 2011. It measured 6’11” from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail…the size of many grizzlies! This magnificent bruin is on display at the Pequest Trout Hatchery on Route 46 in Oxford, Warren County. Since the hunt was re-instituted in 2010 there have been bears brought in to the mandatory check stations that have weighed in excess of 400 pounds. At said check stations they are sized and weighed, and a tooth extracted for aging purposes. A photo on page 50 of the 2017-2018 Hunting & Trapping Digest shows NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife principal biologist and bear project leader Mike Madonia, a recent guest on Rack & Fin Radio, struggling to hold up a boar that weighed 736.5 pounds that was found during den research work in Morris County during the winter of 2015. The bear was tranquilized, blood samples taken and tattooed in its inner lip for future identification, and after it recovered, was left to ramble to another sleeping location. There are no records of this particular bruin being harvested by a hunter, hit by a vehicle or other fatal occurrence. As such, it could very well tip the scale at close to 900 pounds today!

The fecundity of the “Garden State Strain” of black bears is equally impressive. Litters average close to three, with four and five cubs not uncommon. On the same page of the Digest, there are wildlife technicians cradling six cubs found during den research. According to Madonia, half-dozen little ones in a litter, while rare, does happen more than once or twice amongst Garden State sows. This attests to the superior habitat, quality of forage, and genetics.

In addition to a beautiful pelt and subsequent rug or mount, bear meat is delicious and right up there with venison. Remember: approximately 85% of a bruin’s diet is plant-based and also includes mast (acorns, beechnuts, black walnuts), crops (corn is a fave), and berries. This makes the flesh more than palatable. Gamey? Sure…to an extent but then again, it is a game animal. Proper handling in the field and getting it to a refrigerator where it can hang or getting it quartered and then the meat cooled via a refrigerator go a long way in making the meat a dinner delight. We enjoy bear ribs, cutlets, roasts, stew, steaks, sausage, meatloaf, and burgers. Perhaps New Jersey’s most popular bruin butcher, based on the sheer numbers of bears he and his crew skin, carve and vacuum seal, is Jorge & Sons Processing (973-940-3078) located at 33 Old Stagecoach Road in Newton, Sussex County, the heart of Jersey’s Ursus country.

It's strongly advised to have a cooler containing several bags of ice ready in the vehicle. Should a bruin be harvested and gutted, it’s imperative to generously pack the body cavity with the bags of ice as soon as possible in order to lower the body temperature. The thick fat layer and thick pelt hold heat, and unless a cooling process is initiated the meat could spoil. And after checking the bruin, remove the hide off as soon as possible!

During next week’s season, the following check stations will be open every day 9 a.m. through 9 p.m.: the Flatbrook WMA (Rt. 615, Sandyston) and the Whittingham WMA (148 Fredon-Springdale Rd., Newton) both in Sussex County. Others with Monday and Saturday hours only are located at the Black River WMA (275 North Road, Chester) and the Green Pond Golf Course (Rt. 513, Rockaway), in Morris County, and the Pequest WMA (605 Pequest Rd., Oxford) in Warren County.

SHOUT Trout!

Is October great for an outdoor overload or what?!

The Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries’ immensely popular autumn stocking schedule kicks in Tuesday, October 10 and continues through October 18, with 36 venues (17 rivers/19 lakes) in 18 counties being dosed with two-year old robust rainbows averaging a thick-shouldered 15-16 inches and, as a bonus, approximately 500 three-year old spent breeder ‘bows up to 23 inches and weighing up to 6 pounds will be liberated, each swim receiving a percentage based on its length or surface acreage.

The daily limit is four, and there are no closed waters mandating a 5 p.m. opening as during the spring stocking season. This means that you can be fishing even as the trout are being stocked.

While the majority of the streams are in the northern tier counties, there are some prime waters being dosed in The Hawk listening area. The number of trout being stocked is in parenthesis.

Monday, October 10: Manasquan River (460), North Branch of the Metdeconk River (150), South Branch of the Metedeconk River (260), Toms River (250) and the Toms River Trout Conservation Area (100; one fish at a minimum of 15-inches limit).

For a full listing, stocking day and trout totals, visit www.njfishandwildlife.com.

Last Call for Boats

Two boat shows going on this weekend and the last chance to squeeze a deal before the winter boat shows start next February. Admission to both is free. The first is the In-Water Boat Show running this Friday through Sunday (rain dates October 13-15) at Huddy Park in Toms River on Route 166 (Atlantic City Boulevard). There will be a variety of boats in the Toms for trial, including pontoon boats, center console and pilot house fishing boats, cruisers and deck boats. There will also be boats on terra firma for perusal. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. all three days.

The second float event runs this Saturday and is being put on by Coty Marine, 1216 Fischer Boulevard, also in Toms River. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 60 new and used boats will be on display. Coty is touting “2018 Boat Show Prices” as well as “One Day Factory Incentives” including free extended warranties, so it is definitely worth investigating. Brands include Monterey, Key West, Sunsation and Avalon. The clincher? Complimentary beer and wine, and catered victuals by Chef Mike’s ABG.