Bear hunting season begins in Florida

Bear hunt begins despite protests


ORLANDO, Fla. – For the first time in more than 20 years, Florida hunters will trudge through woods to legally kill black bears.

[PHOTOS:  Group gathers in Orlando to protest bear hunt]

Florida wildlife officials have sold more than 3,200 permits to hunters from all over, including 1970s rocker Ted Nugent and Liesa Priddy, a rancher and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission member who voted to approve the new hunting season.

The hunt starts Saturday and will run for a week or until 320 bears are killed.

The hunt was approved by the commission earlier this year after much debate. In the end, the members said the black bear population had grown to 3,500 -- up from a few hundred in the 1970s -- and presents a safety problem.

A News 6 viewer emailed a photo Friday showing a black bear roaming an Oviedo neighborhood.

A bear is spotted in an Oviedo neighborhood.
A bear is spotted in an Oviedo neighborhood.

Thirty-two other states also allow black bear hunts.

Groups gathered across the state Friday, including at Lake Eola in Orlando, to protest the hunt. Former CNN anchor Jane Valez-Mitchell was among the protesters.

"At 7:37 p.m. tonight, the First District Court of Appeal denied our request for emergency relief," Chuck O'Neal said in a statement. "Our request to go directly to the Florida Supreme Court was previously denied. Having exhausted all means of legal recourse, unfortunately for the state of Florida and its wildlife, the hunt of the Florida Black Bear will go forward."

A group in Orlando protests an upcoming bear hunt in Florida.
A group in Orlando protests an upcoming bear hunt in Florida.

FWC said it's expecting a big crowd Saturday morning that includes hunters, visitors and possible protesters. Some hunters arrived early Friday and scouted out their spot for the bear hunt.

"You go up and put up flags and put which hunt it is, and you got your tree stands that you take and put up," Larry Bishop said.

Bishop arrived early to reserve his spot for the bear hunt at Rock Springs Run State Park.

"There's going to be 120 hunters on Saturday. They'll be lined up before the check station opens," he said.

The check station that FWC spent a few days renovating, with sturdier framework and an electric motor, so it will be strong enough to hold a bear.

"They'll bring the bear here. We'll check that they have their permit and get all their personal information and then will work up the bear to get weighed, various measurements, tag it and record it," FWC biologist Tom Shupe said.

Shupe said there are rules hunters must follow to have a successful and legal hunt.

"The bears have to be at least 100 pounds to be legal to be harvested. You can't shoot sow with the cubs. It is legal to shoot a sow but it can't have cubs," said Shupe.

He also said hunters are required 500 square inches of hunter orange and must use black powder guns if they'll be hunting at Rock Springs Run. Once a bear is harvested, Shupe said officials will tally up the numbers each night to see if they've reached 320 bears.

"It's the hunter's responsibility to determine whether it's still legal to hunt the next day," Shupe said.

A hunt that some hunters like Bishop believes will help control the bear population.

"I just think this is a good thing for us here," Bishop said.

Gate opens at 5 a.m. and check station closes at 9 p.m. If a hunter or visitor has any questions about the hunt or what to do once the bear is harvested, call Rock Springs Run Check Station at 352-427-0888.

For all other questions or assistance, call FWC Reward Line/Dispatch at 888-404-3922.

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