By BRUCE SHIPKOWSKI

Hunters across New Jersey are making final preparations for the state's next black bear hunt, which also may be the last one the state holds for some time.

While a formal decision won't be made until next year, the hunt's future seemed to be sealed on election night, when Democrat Phil Murphy ‑‑ who has called for a moratorium on the hunts ‑‑ won the gubernatorial race.

The state's firearm-only season is scheduled for Dec. 4 to 9. It comes just weeks after 243 bears were killed during a six-day hunt staged mostly in northern New Jersey. The first three days of the last hunt were reserved for bow hunting, with bows and muzzle-loading guns allowed the final three days.

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 made it annual.

All hunters are reminded to observe the 450-foot "Safety Zone" around buildings and playgrounds when firearm hunting; bow hunters have a 150-foot zone.

State wildlife officials have touted the annual hunts as an important part of controlling the bear population and minimizing run-ins with humans. Animal rights activists and other critics say the hunts are inhumane and unnecessary. They also argue that the number of bear-human incidents is down.

Murphy won the seat earlier this month when he defeated Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who had called for the hunts to continue. During the campaign, Murphy said he would impose a moratorium on the hunt and criticized Republican Gov. Chris Christie for holding hunts every year since he took office.

Murphy says that before authorizing another hunt, the state needs a "fuller understanding and proof'' that they work better than nonlethal options in the state's long-term bear management policies.

For Black Bear Hunting Season information visit www.njfishandwildlife.com/bearseason_info.htm. Hunters should note that if a 30 percent harvest rate of bears tagged in 2017 is reached the season will close 24 hours from the daily legal closing time of that day; announcement of a closure will be made on the Division's website, in the media and via the Hunting E-mail List.

The NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife contributed to this report.