FREDON - It was a quiet morning at Whittingham bear check-in station with an orderly gathering of biological data of the several bears havested and no protesters across the street as the six-day archery season got underway.
By early afternoon, a half-dozen people were in the “protest zone,” an area across Fredon-Springdale Road from the check-in station, but they were not chanting or yelling at arriving hunters.
A funeral wreath in memory of dead bears and unlit candles in small glass jars were placed in the protest area.
Bill Crain, an avid anti-bear hunt activist who has been arrested and served jail time because of several protests over the years was seated in the area. He said Monday he doesn’t plan to force an arrest this year because of recent surgery.
Across the street, the successful hunters brought bears included a 12-year-old and a police officer. One bear weighed 90 pounds - New Jersey has no size or sex restrictions in the hunt - and a male bear weighing 409 pounds.
A pick-up truck arrived with four bears taken by the same hunting party of seven people.
None of hunters wanted to give their names. The father of the 12-year-old said his son “was hassled a lot last year,” when he got his first bear. The police officer declined to give his name because of his profession and the multi-person hunting party did not want to talk at all.
The first three days of the hunt will be for longbows, compound bows and crossbows only. From Thursday through Saturday, muzzle-loading rifles are permitted.
The absence of many protesters, historically a presence at the check-in station at Whittingham Wildlife Management Area, was planned, as organizers last week invited anti-hunt supporters to instead attend a candlelight vigil each day of the hunt at Whittingham, noting that times will vary.
One of the people gathered in the protest area said a candlelight vigil is planned for Monday evening. A Division of Fish and Wildlife official said that no activity, silent or not, is allowed in a wildlife management area after dark.
The check-in station will remain open until 9 p.m. or until the last bear is checked through. Sunset for Monday is 6:20 p.m.
The first two bears checked in after the station opened at 9 a.m. today were female - one weighing 90 pounds taken near Lafayette and the other 104 pounds killed in Andover Township.
At 11 a.m., the police officer brought in a 103.5-pound female. He said he shot the bear while he was on a stand. He and two friends, who did not accompany him this morning, were hunting on private property off Greendale Road in Fredon.
The officer said the bear will be donated to a game dinner held every year in Essex County with proceeds going to charity. The man said he has taken a bear with a shotgun before and it makes no difference between the two methods - archery and shotgun. “It’s all about shot placement,” he said. “Make a good, clean, ethical kill.”
No bears had been checked in as of 9:30 a.m. at Flatbrook Roy station within the Delaware Water Gap. The Water Gap, which is federally owned property, is open to bear hunting with bow and arrow while state-owned areas such as Flatbrook and Whittingham are Wildlife Management Areas which are closed to bear hunting.
Ed Karecki said he is a friend of the 12-year-old’s family and was the designated “accompanying adult” for Monday’s hunt. He said the 196-pound male was taken with one shot fired from a crossbow.
“I saw the bear coming and told him ‘get your bow up.’ He took the shot when the bear was less than 50 yards and quartering (turned at an angle) away.”
He said the hunting party used scent as bait. In New Jersey, it is legal to use scent or a pile of food to attract bears. The scent in this case was “vanilla,” Karecki said.
He said the pair was sitting on a stone which had fallen from a wall stone . in the “Lafayette-Sparta area”.
Temperatures this morning were in the upper 50s under a bright blue sky as the season opened a half-hour before sunrise.
As was the case last year, all state-owned lands are closed to the bear hunt by order of Gov. Phil Murphy. The closure includes wildlife management areas, which are managed by money received by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife through a federal program which levies a tax on fishing and hunting equipment.
Sportsmen’s groups have a lawsuit pending before the state Supreme Court arguing that the governor does not have the power to regulate such closures, believing that right belongs with the state Fish and Game Council which is created by the state Constitution.
The estimate of the bear population in the “study area” is 1,524, The study area is what now encompasses bear hunt zones 1-4, the area west of Route 287 and north of Route 78. The state Division of Fish and Wildlife has been studying black bears in that area since the mid-50s.
Black bears are known to now live in all 21 New Jersey counties. The estimate of the state-wide population has not been made.