By Stephen Hudak and Elyssa Cherney
Victor Peters thought at first it was a burglar who broke into a sitting room at his Lady Lake home.
But then the Michigan retiree noticed the only thing missing Wednesday morning was half a bag of dog food.
The “burglar” turned out to be a large black bear who made the mistake of returning Wednesday night when Peters was armed and ready for it.
“When I yelled at it, he looked [at me] like, ‘Well, I don’t care who you are,'” Peters told a Lake County sheriff’s 911 dispatcher. “He just kept coming.”
The animal bared its teeth at Peters, who fired his hunting rifle into the bear’s head from 10 feet away. It died right there in Peters’ Florida room.
“I’ve seen a lot of black bear. I hunt,” said Peters, 64, who worked in state parks in Michigan. “I’ve never seen one this big.”
He estimated the size of the animal at 400 to 500 pounds.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the killing of the bear.
“It’s a mess,” FWC spokesman Greg Workman said. “But it sounds like he did what he should have done.”
The agency will conduct a necropsy on the bear.
Peters called Lake County 911 after awaking Wednesday morning to find someone — or something — had torn out the windows of his Florida room. He suspected a burglar until he realized the culprit left a computer and printer but feasted on dog food.
The emergency dispatcher connected Peters with FWC and wildlife agents suggested he move the dog food from the Florida room into the main house, which he did. Peters, who went to bed at 2 a.m. Wednesday, said he slept through the first break-in.
He didn’t have time to patch the gash in the wall where the windows had been before the bear returned. He heard noise in the back yard around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, looked out the window and saw the bear.
Peters said he began yelling to scare it off but the bear tried to come through the same hole again, presumably for the rest of the 35-pound bag of dog food.
Lake County is one of the most bear-plagued areas of the state, according to a Florida database of nuisance complaints. Lake ranks with Orange, Seminole and Volusia among the counties with the largest bear populations and most encounters between humans and bears.
Florida black bears, the state’s largest native land mammal, have been blamed twice since December for attacks on women in Seminole County — including one incident that wildlife officers described as the worst bear attack on a human ever documented in Florida.
The animals are most active in Florida in October and November, scavenging for food as they prepare for winter.
State records show Lady Lake residents have called FWC’s bear hotline more than 50 times since 2008, but Peters had never seen a bear in his neighborhood before. Some neighbors said they recently spotted a female and cubs, rummaging in trash.
Wildlife officials often warn residents to keep trash locked up or hidden in garages to deter nosy bears.
Peters, who hunts wild pigs, admitted his heart was pounding when he saw the bear approaching.
“I didn’t feel like I had any choice,” he said. “If a bear is that bold around people, someone was going to get hurt eventually.”
Peters said the large bear not only scared him but his dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback which, coincidentally, is named “Bear.”