MADISON, Wis. (AP) -

A state ecologist says prospects are good for the black bear hunting season in Wisconsin.

The hunt gets under way Wednesday and runs through Oct. 9. A mild winter and early spring benefited the black bear population in Wisconsin. The Department of Natural Resources says bears are abundant to the north and have expanded their range to central and western areas of the state.

About 9,000 hunting permits have been issued this season, the same as last year. This year, hunters who aren't using dogs will have the first week of the season to themselves.

DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang says the bear population is pushing toward southern Wisconsin. He says hunters are taking bears as far south as Trempealeau, Monroe, Juneau, Portage, Waupaca, and Outagamie counties.