Florida bear hunt so successful it may end early

FLORIDA -- The state of Florida is holding its first state-sanctioned bear hunt in over 20 years. It was supposed to last a week, but so many bears have been killed, it might close earlier than expected.

When the hunt started on Saturday, officials said that up to 320 bears could legally be killed. By mid-day on Sunday, hunters had killed 293 bears. The Florida Wildlife Commission may shut down the project on Sunday night, but stressed in a conference call that the numbers are still in range.

"None of these numbers are worrying to us. We have large, resilient, growing bear populations." said Dr. Thomas Eason, Director of the Division of Habitat & Species Conservation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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In 2012, the black bear was still on the endangered species list. Now, wildlife officers estimate there are more than 3,000 bears in Florida, and fewer places for them to live.

Cameras have caught bears walking by bicyclists on a neighborhood street, roaming through yards and going through garbage. Central Florida hunter Bryan Smith said the bears have become a nuisance.

"They do a lot of damage on the property," he said. "It's nice being able to take this one out."

Animal rights activists protested for six months before the hunt, which was unsuccessfully challenged in court. Opponents like Nicole Bower monitored the bears being brought in.

"It's beyond me that that is our only means, is just to kill them," she said.

Protesters opposed to bear hunting in Florida demonstrate on a street in downtown Gainesville, Fla., Friday, Oct. 23, 2015. AP

More than 37,000 hunters got permits. Seventy-year-old grandma, Glynda Bryant, was one of them.

"Yeah, you gotta be in it to win it," she said.

She came home empty handed, but was glad to see the hunt was successful overall.

"The basic problem with some of these bears is they're just roaming around...they tear stuff up," she said.

Wildlife officials admit the hunt went much faster than they thought it would. Despite that, they didn't have many problems. Just one hunter was ticketed for killing a bear cub. Another received a warning for killing a bear that was underweight.