Bear hunts send wrong message


February 17, 2003, 04:50 PM
Charleston Daily Mail

February 14, 2003, Friday

SECTION: News; Pg. P1D

LENGTH: 528 words

HEADLINE: Bear hunts send wrong message

BYLINE: John McCoy


AGAINST all expectations, West Virginia's bear hunters enjoyed a record-breaking season this past fall.

They'd better enjoy it while it lasts.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm convinced that bear hunting - at least as it's currently practiced in the Mountain State - might just be an endangered pastime. The bears themselves are anything but endangered. Division of Natural Resources biologists say the statewide population has risen to more than 10,000 and is still growing.

Interest in hunting is solid, too. And as bears become more available, that interest could actually grow.

The potential problem, as I see it, lies in the way hunters pursue the animals.

Hunters who use firearms almost always use dogs. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that approach. Hunting with dogs is a time-honored tradition, and the dogs allow hunters to find bears much more easily.

If dogs were used today the way they were back when those traditions were established, no one would have any problems with the practice. Hunters would turn out their dogs and follow them on foot as they tracked their quarry.

But that isn't the way it's done today. The more - uh - "enthusiastic" bear hunters equip their dogs with radio transponders and GPS locators, and use all-terrain vehicles to keep pace with their dogs.

All those practices are perfectly legal. One could also argue that they're ethical, too, because they allow the hunters to more quickly find and shoot any bears their hounds might tree. Quick kills reduce the bears' torment, and they reduce the chance that bears might choose to fight their way out and kill a bunch of dogs.

The problem with the modern approach lies in the public's perception of it. The public doesn't see a bunch of hunters and dogs chasing a bear; they see the civilian equivalent of an armored cavalry division, four-wheeling over hill and dale with every electronic convenience locked in on a fleeing bruin.

The perception problem isn't restricted to firearm-and-hound hunters, either. Bowhunters are creating a public-relations nightmare of their own by shooting bears over bait.

Last fall, bowhunters bagged 725 of the record 1,335 bears killed. I figure at least 650 of them took those arrows while they were lapping up jelly doughnuts from bait sites.

Baiting bears is illegal under West Virginia law. But deer baiting isn't. Bowhunters are skating around the rules by setting up deer-bait sites that contain doughnuts, fish guts, and other bear delicacies.

The tide of public opinion hasn't yet swung against bear hunters. West Virginians still believe that the best way to control black-bear populations is to hunt the animals.

But for opinion to remain on hunters' side, people must be reassured that bear hunts are being conducted under fair-chase rules.

Mechanized, electronically assisted assaults on bears need to be curtailed. Laws need to be rewritten.

As for baiting - if DNR officials want to legalize bear-baiting and can make a case that it's biologically necessary for population control, fine.

But continuing the pretense that baiting isn't occurring simply because it's illegal is a farce.

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February 17, 2003, 08:07 PM
The problem with the modern approach lies in the public's perception of it. The public doesn't see a bunch of hunters and dogs chasing a bear; they see the civilian equivalent of an armored cavalry division, four-wheeling over hill and dale with every electronic convenience locked in on a fleeing bruin.

This line absolutely kills me.

February 17, 2003, 09:10 PM
One question for you, have you ever hunted bears behind dogs? I have been guiding behind dogs for over 10 years and the description of how it's done here and how we do do it are drastically different.

Several points in fact. We do put a locator on our lead dog but this is for the purpose of finding the dog more so than the purpose of finding the tree he's under. A good dog is nearly impossible to replace not to mention expensive and about 5 years of training. A trophy animal can not be recored if a locator was used in pursuit so many times the locator is not even put on the dog. We use the locator at the end of the day or week to find our lost dogs and almost never during the actual hunt. We do use them however during depredation hunts for the purpose of killing or catching a trouble bear or cat. This is a state requirement. And they are not gps locators they are radio directional transmitters in our outfitt anyway with about 3 miles range.

We do not use four wheelers as they would be illegal off road in the national forrest. I would imagine that this parctice is illegal in Va as well. So if guys are doing it on public land they are in fact breaking the law. We use horses and foot. The horses usually get you just far enough into the back country that one is forced to siwash for the night before ridging at 18:00 20 miles from the truck. Then the pursuit is continued on foot and usually in some of gods roughest high country imaginable. I've had grand slam sheep hunters tell me that bear hunting behind dogs is the roughest hunt they've ever been on.

We have a saying that if you aren't completely whipped by the end of the second day you hunt next year free. I've had guys who thought hunting behind dogs was "the easy way" go home after day one with their tails between their legs and thier hunt fee gladly forefited.

Hunting with dogs is a true catch and release form of hunting. If you catch a bear or a lion you don't want simply pull back the dogs and release it and go catch another (maybe).

The myth that one keeps pace with the dogs is just that a myth. There is no humanly possible way to keep pace with a pack of hot sent trailing hounds. What is done in actuality is the guide and the hunter if he or she can manage walks or rides in the direction he thinks the animals went then climbs to the top of every highest peak around and listens for the dogs. or in the case of a locator collar he still climbs to the top of every ridge or peak because the recievers are line of sight and will not recieve in the canyon bottoms. Many times a bear chase or race as it's known will take a hunter 15 or 20 miles into the back country.

I agree that many aspects of dog hunting look bad to the uninitiated however, most people who have tried it come away with a totally different opinon of hound hunting especially after doing it the right way in serious country.

If guys are in fact tearing around the woods redneck deliverance style on four wheelers then by god they deserve a first class butt whooping. We out here in the west do not do it that way.

If not baiting or hounds how do you propose that we keep our very large and growing perdator population in balance. The cat population in NM is so large presently that some herds of desert bighorn are fast disapearing. In the Animas herd the lambs have an 85% mortality rate due to lion deperdation.

Now drizzit I am not trying to trash you in any way. I'm just giving the hound hunters side of the story. And some easily verified facts. I can't tell by your post if you are in agreement with the article quoted or not. If you are please take some of the considerations in this post into account.

:) :)

February 17, 2003, 09:19 PM
A hound hunters heaven........;)


I've got a lot more pictures and video than I do cat or bear skins as do most hound hunters that I know. The thrill and challenge of dog hunting is in the chase and the miles covered.

Art Eatman
February 18, 2003, 12:21 AM
People have been hunting over bait or a waterhole since the earliest days of spears or bows/arrows. However, if it's illegal under a state's laws, folks shouldn't do it.

Other than getting to a far-back-country camp, I'm just "plumb agin" snowmobiles and four-wheelers in hunting. As transportation to a location, they're not particularly different from a Jeep, but they doggoned well shouldn't be actively used in a hunt.

But the guy's dead-on about public perception...


February 18, 2003, 12:44 AM
What proof does this author offer that proves that most of the bow killed bears are killed over bait?Also,how does he know that they are using jelly donuts and fish at deer baiting sites?

February 18, 2003, 01:46 PM
There is certainly nothing wrong with using dogs to hunt bears. And really, I don't see a problem with bait either. In most places, bears are rather thinly distributed and largely nocturnal, so how else could you hunt them?

10,000 bears in a state as large as WV, and those moving almost entirely at night... That's a tall order.

As usual, I agree entirely with Art that anyone using a vehicle to actively hunt is not somebody welcome in my camp.


Art Eatman
February 18, 2003, 09:52 PM
Pawcatch, you ever known any reporter to not-write on account of a lack of proof?

The anti-hunter noise-makers don't need proof; they're as happy with "I heard..." as anybody else.



February 19, 2003, 04:06 AM
Yup,that is all too true Art.

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