Bear Sightings are becoming more common

Missouri Department of Conservation
Black bears are being seen more often at Lake of the Ozarks.

What used to be a once in a lifetime sighting is now becoming common and widespread as more black bears are being seen in Missouri, especially in the southern half of the state.

Generally shy, black bears are not aggressive and will try to avoid people. Late spring and early summer are the primary times for bears to be on the move. During this time, black bears may come to your property in search of food, according to Miller County Conservation Agent Eric Swainston said. The best way to keep them away is to eliminate that food source.

“We don’t want people providing food sources for bears and then having them lose their natural fear of people or associating people with getting food. Although black bear attacks are rare, leave them alone if you see them. Don’t approach them and always leave them an escape route,” he cautioned.

Intentionally feeding bears can be dangerous as it makes them comfortable around people. It can also lead to bears associating humans with food, which can lead to significant property damage while they are searching for a meal. When bears lose their fear of humans, they could approach people in search of food or may defend the food sources or the territory, which can make them dangerous, he said.

“The main way to keep bears away from your property is to eliminate any type of food they could be looking for,” Swainston said. “Store garbage indoors or in a bear-proof container or location. Regularly clean and disinfect trash containers to minimize any smells that could attract bears.  Keep barbecue grills clean and store them inside.”

Bears eat a wide variety of food, but grass, berries, fruits, seeds, nuts, the inner bark of trees and roots are their main foods. They also enjoy ants, bees, honey, crickets, grasshoppers, fish, frogs, small rodents, fawns, bird eggs and carrion. Bears have also been known to eat pet food, human food waste and bird seed.

“Don’t use bird feeders in bear country from April through November,” Swainston recommended. “If you want to have bird feeders out during that time, hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from any structure. Remember, though, that even though the bear may not be able to reach the feeder, the scent of birdseed could still attract them. Electric fences help keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, gardens and other food sources.”

While Missouri is only home to black bears, they can range in color from black, brown, red or cinnamon.

With the bear population increasing, the Missouri Department of Conservation determined the state can sustain a limited and highly regulated harvest. Missouri’s first black bear hunting season will be held Oct. 18-27 this year, with a maximum of 40 bears harvested, according to Swainston.

“Parts of Missouri will be split up into designated areas, called Bear Management Zones or BMZs, to hunt black bears. You need to have a black bear hunting permit, which will be specific to one of the BMZs. A total of 400 bear permits will be issued for all of the BMZs combined,” Swainston said. “Each BMZ has a different harvest quota of bears along with a different number of permits that will be issued for that zone.”

Hunters wishing to apply for a bear hunting permit had to apply online in May to enter the drawing for one of the permits. Those who were lucky enough to be drawn will then have to purchase their permits. Bear hunters must call in each day prior to hunting to determine if the harvest quota has been met for their specific BMZ, Swainston said.

To learn more about bear hunting in Missouri, visit mdc.mo.gov/bearhunting or view MDC’s Black Bear Hunting Digest at huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/reguations/black-bear-hunting-digest. For more information on black bears and how to Be Bear Aware, visit mdc.mo.gov/bearaware. To report bear sightings, submit information and photos online at mdc.mo.gov/reportbears.