My Once-in-a-Lifetime Sunshine State Bear


My Once-in-a-Lifetime Sunshine State Bear

Like a whole slew of other folks, I headed into the Florida woods on Saturday with a loaded gun (a pair of them, actually) and the desire to kill a bear.

Unlike most of them, I managed to do it.

Does that make me special? Nah. It’s just that I’ve essentially been scouting the Ocala National Forest, which is positively crawling with bruins these days, since I was a skinny 13-year-old. I’ve watched the place transform over the years, and the bears haven’t brought anything good with their massive population growth.

The paws are good sized and powerful, but the claws are the most impressive. (Photo: Russ Chastain)
The paws are good sized and powerful, but the claws are the most impressive. (Photo: Russ Chastain)

When I began hunting here, nobody even mentioned bears. There just weren’t enough to even think about. But eventually, folks began spotting them. And before you knew it, we hunters often had a better chance of seeing a bear than a deer.

The bears brought plenty of destruction, too. Bears are strong and can easily rip apart a fence. And they do so on a regular basis. They also love to raid garbage cans and will tear through anything in their way to get to them – or to get to anything else they want, such as dog food, venison quarters in a cooler, chickens in a coop, or food in a freezer. The list goes on. These are just a few off the top of my head from my personal knowledge.

Bears aren’t friendly, nor are they cuddly. They are big, powerful, dangerous animals. And without any reason to fear man, they become quite bold.

Her teeth were very worn. That's her left top fang on the bottom right - broken but hanging on my a flap of gum. (Photo: Russ Chastain)
Her teeth were very worn. That’s her left top fang on the bottom right – broken but hanging on by a flap of gum. (Photo: Russ Chastain)

They spoil deer hunts and even climb our tree stands. (Yes, that’s happened to me, and I didn’t enjoy it.) I have to keep and feed an often-aggravating yard dog just to deter bears from destroying my fences and tearing things up in my back yard. Often, I’ve watched bears from my tree stand, with a rifle in my hands and an itchy trigger finger, and had to let them walk away to raid another day.

So anyhow–a Florida bear hunt has been overdue for years, and here it finally was.

I don’t watch the TV news. If I had, I probably would have seen a bunch of lackwits protesting the coming hunt. But I did not. All I knew was that there would be a bunch of people in the forest trying to get bears and that the hunt could be shut down after just one day of hunting. So I prepared ahead of time and headed to a spot that’s hard to access. It paid off. Four hours after daylight, I bagged a 263-pound sow with a single shot from a 338-06.

How does it feel to take a bear after all of that? Pretty damn good.

And for all I know, this may be the only bear I ever get to take. So far, this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I’ve most likely passed the midpoint of my earthly existence.

So you can bet I’m going to savor it–and every bite of the bear stew I’ve got cooking in the crock pot right now.

I'm not smiling, but I'm a very happy man. (Photo: Russ Chastain)
I’m not smiling here, but I’m a very happy man. (Photo: Russ Chastain)
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Editor & Contributing Writer Russ Chastain is a lifelong hunter and shooter who has spent his life learning about hunting, shooting, guns, ammunition, gunsmithing, reloading, and bullet casting. He started toting his own gun in the woods at age nine and he's pursued deer with rifles since 1982, so his hunting knowledge has been growing for more than three and a half decades. His desire and ability to share this knowledge with others has also grown, and Russ has been professionally writing and editing original hunting & shooting content since 1998. Russ Chastain has a passion for sharing accurate, honest, interesting hunting & shooting knowledge and stories with people of all skill levels.

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