New Jersey the first black bear hunt in two years occurred Wednesday morning as Sussex County reported its first kill of the season and anti-hunting protesters kept their distance.

A day after a state court lifted an emergency shutdown that delayed the harvest, hunters headed into the woods of northwest New Jersey, a designated area where state officials say the number of bear-human encounters is reaching dangerous levels. But unlike the noisy scenes at previous hunts, there were not enough protesters, who call the harvest cruel and unnecessary. No one was present at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area in Newton, where opponents have gathered in previous years near the station where state wildlife officers weigh dead bears. Instead, anti-hunting groups said they plan to post signs and banners in more populated areas throughout the rest of the state.

The state Department of Environmental Protection wasted no time Tuesday after a court lifted a halt to the hunt, which was originally scheduled to begin Monday morning. The agency declared open season a few hours after the ruling and DEP website said the first bear kill was reported in Sussex County on Tuesday evening.

An anti-bear hunting billboard is seen on North Midland Avenue in Saddle Brook, New Jersey on Wednesday, December 7, 2022.

Terry Mowery of West Milford, Pa., came out of the woods Wednesday morning at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Walpack.

Mowery has been an avid bear hunter “since I was 12 years old. I’m 54 now.” Mowery explained that he hunts in Pennsylvania, where bear hunting has been a tradition for many years, and now hunts both deer and bear during the New Jersey season.

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