May I Shoot The Bear?
I am fortunate enough to own several acres in the Florida Panhandle. The acreage affords a beautiful walking trail that weaves in and out of the trees that my wife and I use for our exercise program. The entire property has been fenced hoping to keep the dogs from leaving but it’s pretty easy for deer and other forms of wildlife to penetrate the frail barrier.
Not too long ago, pulling out of my driveway, I spotted a bear crossing the state road that fronts my property. It may or may not have been on my property but it most certainly had been near the property line shared with my neighbor’s acreage. That got me thinking. What if my wife and I were out walking the trail and were startled by a bear? What would we do? Or more to the point, what would the bear do? Should we turn and run? Would it be better to freeze on the spot and hope the bear continues its leisurely stroll? What if it was a mama bear with cubs and she felt threatened enough to charge? Should I carry a gun while walking the trail? That would, at least, give me protection if we were charged by an irate mother.
Some have said it’s unlikely that a bear would access my property. But I can dispute that position by suggesting that there is plenty of natural bear habitat close by owned by the State of Florida and the Wakulla State Forest. As proof I enclose a photo of a black bear that a friend of mine encountered on my property. He told me that when standing against a tree, it stood some 7 feet tall.
This photo was taken by a friend to whom I gave property access for purposes of deer hunting in-season. He happened to encounter the bear one very early morning.
I know it’s illegal to shoot a bear in Florida so I called to speak with someone who could tell me all about bears in this part of Northern Florida. So who better to ask my options than a knowledgeable and experienced employee of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission? The question I posed was “May I shoot a charging bear?” The first two employees I talked with had no ready ideas about my dilemma but they finally tracked down the employee they said was the most knowledgeable person on the subject. Once again, I explained the situation that had prompted my call and repeated my question.
“Simply put”, I asked, “what do I do if I encounter a bear on my walking trail? Am I allowed to shoot the bear if it charges?” “Not unless you want to go to jail”, she replied quickly. “Then, what am I supposed to do if I am so confronted by a bear?” I asked with growing impatience. “Remain calm, make a lot of noise, and slowly walk away in the direction from which you came keeping an eye on the bear.”, she explained. “And if the bear starts charging me…what then?” “The bear won’t charge you.” “Okay, but what if it does?” “It won’t.” “But if it does, may I shoot under that circumstance? I could tell that my voice was getting increasingly shrill. “Not unless you want to go to jail.” She answered calmly.
At this point I realized it would be senseless to continue asking these potentially relevant but most difficult questions. So I politely thanked her for explaining my options and ended the call. Fortunately, the situation of a charging bear hasn’t developed (yet) but if it does, I’ll have to choose between a jail sentence or becoming a main course. I think I’d opt for a 12 person jury rather than a 6 person coffin contingent.
What would you do?