NEWTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s latest bear hunt gets underway Monday, but this year’s hunt could be one of the last for a while if the Democrat running to replace Gov. Chris Christie wins next month’s election.

The six-day hunt starts at sunrise in eight counties. The first three days are reserved for bow hunting, while hunting with bows and muzzle-loading guns will be allowed during the last three days.

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State parks and wildlife management areas will be open to hunting in Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex and Warren counties and in areas of Bergen, Mercer, Passaic and Somerset counties. Bow hunters are allowed on private property with the owner’s permission, but can’t fire arrows within 150 feet of a building.

Hunters are required to have permits for the zones they plan to hunt in. Roughly half of the 11,000 permits available overall had been sold by late last week.

State wildlife officials have touted the annual hunts as an important part of controlling the bear population and minimizing run-ins with humans, particularly in the northern part of New Jersey known as bear country. There are an estimated 2,400 to 2,800 bears in the eight counties where this week’s hunt will take place.

But animal rights activists and other critics say the hunts are inhumane, fearing hunters using arrows will more likely wound or maim the animals instead of killing them. They also argue that the hunts are not needed, noting a sharp decrease in the number of complaints filed about bears this year.

New Jersey resumed state-regulated bear hunting in 2003 after a ban that lasted more than 30 years. Another hunt was held in 2005, and in 2010 the state instituted an annual hunt.

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The state’s firearm-only season for bear hunting this year is scheduled for Dec. 4-9. Officials have the option to extend the bear hunt if the harvest objectives are not met.

Whether the bear hunts continue in coming years will likely depend on who wins the election next month to succeed Christie, a term-limited Republican who has authorized the annual hunts.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the GOP gubernatorial hopeful, says the hunts should continue. But Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate, has said he would impose a moratorium on the hunts so officials can test the effectiveness of nonlethal means of bear control.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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