Hunters hoping to take advantage of Florida's weeklong bear hunt—the first in 21 years—have had to shoulder their rifles after just two days. "I have signed the order to close the hunt," Nick Wiley of the state's wildlife commission said Sunday after 295 bears were killed. The number is likely to rise as hunters have 12 hours to report their kills. Wiley said the max limit of 320 bears would likely be exceeded with another day of hunting, adding, "We'd rather err on the conservative side." Still, the number of dead bears did exceed limits in specific areas. Some 112 bears were killed in the eastern Panhandle in the first day of hunting, though the limit was set at 40. Hunters in Central Florida felled 39 more bears than the area's limit of 100. "The bears haven't been hunted in 21 years, so they're relatively naive," says the commission's bear expert.
Wiley hailed the hunt as a success, but not everyone was pleased. Opponents warned that the loss of too many animals would be devastating to a population—estimated at 3,300—that was only recently scratched off Florida's imperiled-species list. A rep for the Sierra Club, which opposed the hunt, said the limitless hunting permits sold may have "set back the recovery of the bears for years, if not decades." The public was generally against the hunt: About 75% of the 40,000 responses received ahead of the commission's vote on the hunt this summer were against it. However, 3,779 hunters, including Ted Nugent, were eventually issued licenses, which earned the state $376,900, per the AP and Orlando Sentinel. Officials are now investigating possible hunting violations and say one hunter has been charged after shooting a cub.