It’s man versus bear in Florida this weekend.
Despite anti-bear hunt protests happening in cities across the state, in the wee hours of Saturday morning, thousands of hunters will head into the woods, hoping to bag a black bear.
The weeklong bear hunt ends as soon as 320 of the bruins, whose population has come back from the brink, are killed. The state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is setting up 33 “check-in” stations around the 4 Bear Management Units where hunting will be allowed. Every successful hunter has 12 hours to present the carcass to wildlife agents, who will update the statewide tally each night on a telephone hotline and on the FWC website.
More than 3,200 hunters have paid $100 each for their controversial bear hunt permits and Newton Cook is one of them. He’ll be quietly stalking the elusive bruins on a friend’s private ranch north of Orlando.
“The areas that are hunted are too crowded with bears,” said Cook. And the way to reduce that crowded situation is to use the natural way, the one that’s been around for tens of thousands of years. And that’s man hunting bears.”
The state estimates there are about 3000 black bear now roaming parts of Florida. It’s a conservation success story in the Sunshine State. Only 300 bear were left back in the 1970s.
Over the past couple of years, there have been hundreds of neighborhood bear incidents, including 4 serious bear-versus-human attacks. The bear are also to blame for numerous dead pets—mostly dogs—who get in the way of the garbage and trash cans the bears want.
Despite accusations by bear hunt opponents, the state says Florida’s 1st bear hunt in 21 years has nothing to do with the bear attacks. A lawsuit to block the bear hunt, citing unsound science used by the state, lost in court.
Chuck O’Neal’s group, Speak Up Wekiva, filed the lawsuit.
“We’ve elevated expressways, we’ve built underpasses,” says O’Neal. "We’ve gone to great lengths to rebuild this species and now they’re up for sale for a hundred bucks a piece? It’s crazy.”
Thirty-two states allow hunting bear. This weekend, Florida becomes number 33.
The rules of the bear hunt forbid using bait to attract the bear. Hunters are also not allowed to use dogs, which in other states, are used to track the bear and chase it up a tree, where the hunter then shoots it down.
Every bear hunter is also encouraged to bring with them a can of anti-bear pepper spray.
The state estimates each bear hunter has about a 7 percent chance of actually seeing a bear. So it could be a long day in the woods, sitting very quietly, waiting and waiting.