By Brian Lynn, Sportsmen’s Alliance Vice President of Marketing & Communication @sportsmensall
When animal-rights activists portray bear hunters, they do so in a manner that casts a disparaging light up on them in the eyes of non-hunters. They call hound and bait hunters things like lazy and slobs who employ unfair tactics to lure hungry, unsuspecting bears to slaughter.
The emotional picture they paint leaves non-hunters (and some hunters) with the image of men sitting on mountains of bait large enough to feed New York City or standing around pickup tailgates while they send their poorly cared for dogs off to certain death against a scared bear only doing what it must to survive.
Think of just about any Disney movie – Bambi, Fox and the Hound, Open Season. In each the humanized wild animals are pursued by the evil hunter. The animal-rights movement uses this anthropomorphism to their advantage not just by humanizing bears to the public, but also by leveraging the very tool at stake – hounds. Houndsmen don’t just face a stereotype of a ruthless killer that every other hunter is saddled with, they are also portrayed as uncaring towards their dogs. The emotional double whammy makes hound hunting easy pickings for legislative limits and ballot initiative bans.
It’s up to hunters – houndsmen and bait hunters – to educate non-hunters, the media and even other hunters on the truths pertaining to their chosen methods. When it comes to hound hunting, those truths include:
Canine care: Houndsmen care for their dogs. It’s how they enjoy their chosen method of hunting, and even make a living in some instances. While hounds might not be pampered with painted nails, doggie coats and boots or sleep on the bed, it doesn’t serve the houndsman’s best interest to not care for their dogs. An uncared for pack won’t last in the bear woods.
Animal evaluation: A treed bear allows hunters to evaluate an animal much longer and much closer than a spot-and-stalk hunter. Houndsmen can age and sex an animal so as to pass on immature bears, a sow with cubs or even a sow without cubs but who is showing signs of still or recently nursing. The health of the animal can also be evaluated, and in the case of animals with mange or other issues, they can either be removed from the gene pool, euthanized if necessary or at least reported to state biologists.
Ethical shots: Whereas spot and stalk doesn’t always allow enough time to accurately judge a bear or time to see if cubs are trailing or in the area, neither does it offer an ideal shot often times. A bear treed with hounds allow the hunter plenty of time to wait for a clean, ethical shot to the vitals.
Catch and release: Perhaps the greatest irony of animal-rights activists trying to end hound hunting is that houndsmen often don’t kill a treed bear. As often as not, more enjoyment is taken in the pursuit – from hearing the chop and bawl of the dogs to watching their pack develop and work a track. Dogs can be pulled off a tree, and the bear will quickly go on its way as if nothing had happened.
Hazing: No law says that a treed bear must be killed. Even when houndsmen don’t put a mature bear up or choose not to take it for another reason or during a pursuit-only season, benefits still result. That bear had a less than optimal experience with dogs and people. The negative association that’s created from that encounter could help keep that bear from coming into future conflicts with humans and pets.
WHERE WE’VE LOST HOUND HUNTING
In 2014, the Washington, D.C.,-based Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) foisted a ballot initiative upon the citizens of Maine that would, for all intents and purposes, have ended bear hunting by banning the use of hounds, bait and traps. HSUS contributed roughly 97 percent of the $2.7 million used in the campaign.
HSUS and animal-rights advocates like to point out that bear hunting would have still been legal; just those three methods would have been removed. Hunters in The Pine Tree State would have been relegated to spot-and-stalk hunting only. If you’ve ever visited the dense forests of Maine, you know that spots and stalk isn’t feasible when it comes to managing the more than 30,000 bears in the state. In fact, hounds, bait and traps account for approximately 93 percent of Maine’s annual bear harvest.
Luckily, the Sportsmen’s Alliance and our partners at the national and local level defeated Question 1 by a vote of 53.6 to 46.3 percent. This was HSUS’ second attempt to end bear hunting in Maine, the first coming in 2004. Other states haven’t been as lucky as Maine, and the sound of hounds has been silenced.
California 1990 and 2012
In 1990, 52% of California voters approved Proposition 117, which banned mountain lion hunting. The measure was a precursor to the nationwide ballot-initiative blitzkrieg pushed by the Humane Society of the United States in the 90s. In 2012, the legislature approved a ban on hounds for bears and bobcats. Since, bear harvests have dropped 50% and problem-bears have increased.
The first state to ban spring and fall bear hunting with hounds or bait when Initiative 10 passed. Success rates dropped to 9%.
Voters approved Measure 18 by a narrow 52%, banning the use of hounds for lions and bears.
Initiative 655, approved by 63% of voters, eliminated hound hunting of black bears, mountain lions, bobcat and lynx.
Question 1 was supported by only 55% of voters. It banned baiting and hounding for bears, and possession of any kind of trap for fur-bearing animals.