(This is the second part of a two-part article. Part one can be seen by opening the link below:)
Today – August 29 – is the first day of bear hunting in Maine, ending on November 26. During that time (excluding Sundays) these animals can be killed over bait (8/29 – 9/24), by trapping (9/1 – 10/31) with dogs (9/12 – 10/28), all in overlapping seasons. However, since last year,‘junior hunters’ (younger than sixteen) are allowed to hunt a day earlier with a firearm, a bow and arrow, or crossbow (if you did a double take when you just read the word “crossbow” you’re not mistaken.Though these weapons originated in the Middle Ages, they are still available. See below:
Like a bow and arrow, they kill by shock and internal bleeding, usually over a prolonged period, especially if a bear is wounded. It may seem like a throwback to the Dark Ages, but it’s all perfectly legal.
How did Youth Bear Hunting Day come about? It’s an attempt to increase the diminishing ranks of hunters and introduce a new generation to killing animals over bait, in traps (but not by using dogs) by still-hunting (which accounts for only 3% of bears killed) and, yes, with crossbows -all at a time when there’s already too much violence in the world.
The sponsor of this legislation, Representative Stephen Wood, a Republican from Sabattus, is a member of the same committee that heard the bill, and is personally known to them as a colleague and possibly a friend which may have increased the likelihood of the bill’s passage. He is also part owner of a guide service, offering moose, deer and bear hunts, which means he had a clear financial stake in the outcome. This, in turn, raises the question that if the sponsor of a bill may derive personal benefit from its passage, isn’t this a conflict of interest?
In any case, if you were unaware of Youth Bear Hunting Day or that Bear Hunting Season has begun, it’s because they don’t receive much attention in the media, and when they do, coverage is sparse and sometimes flippant as in this recent excerpt:
“Maine’s bears are on notice: an army of pint-sized hunters is coming their way this. The youth day kicks off the annual hunting season and allows hunters who are younger than 16 a chance to try to harvest a black bear.”
Notice that the reporter repeats the euphemism ‘harvest’ that hunters and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commonly use, suggesting a pastoral image of gathering a field of grain or wheat instead of the cruel killing of a wild animal who wants to live as much as we do and shares many of the same emotions including pain and suffering.
A few days later, the same newspaper used the same euphemism: “Hunters typically harvest about 3,000 bears per year in Maine. The majority of the hunters usually are from out of state.” You have to wonder – what are they concealing? Why can’t they say “kill” when killing is what happens? Perhaps because if they did, we might wonder how animals are killed, and we might be appalled.
It’s what’s involved in trapping. An animal accidentally steps into a trap and is held fast until the trapper comes along and “dispatches” (another euphemism) it, usually with a bullet. Until that happens, the creature struggles to escape, is fearful and possibly in pain if it’s been hurt or wounded or cold and remains a prisoner until it’s executed at point blank range. Is the animal always killed? Not at first. In fact, DIFW has issued the following warning:
“A bear caught in a trap may not be used in conjunction with a hunt or to train a dog for bear hunting.” In other words, leaving a bear alive in a trap while dogs attack it is prohibited which in itself suggests that such ‘training’ has occurred in the past. If crossbows belong in the Dark Ages, so this does this barbaric practice.
When the bear is dead, hunters are required to remove a premolar tooth from the bear they “harvest” (again) and provide the tooth when they register their bear. This ghoulish practice is required to give DIFW a sense of how many bears have been killed and how old they are. For instance, in 2014 2,827 bears were killed (by all methods and mostly by out-of-staters) with the majority (79%) between 1-5 years old. Older bears appear to be more wary and possibly smarter.
Then there’s hunting with dogs, though just like baiting and trapping, there’s no actual hunting involved; instead, radio-collared dogs do the work, if pursuing an animal until it turns and fights to the death (of itself and often some of the dogs) can be called “work.” If the bear survives to the point of taking refuge in a tree, it will be shot out of it by a human who’s followed the pack with a GPS until the bear can’t escape and can be killed. DIFW offers the following tips for hunting bears with hounds:
-Hunting with hounds is physically demanding. An exercise program will put you and your dogs in shape to complete a hunt safely.
-Before releasing hounds consider the location of roads and houses Always ask landowner permission before starting hounds.
-To avoid conflicts with other hunters, be aware of the location of active bait sites and avoid releasing dogs where hunters are in stands.
-Consider working with a registered Maine guide or skilled houndsman to learn the tricks of the trade.
Hunters are also advised that no more than 6 dogs may be used at any one time to hunt for bear and that nonresidents -which most bear hunters are and who pay handsomely for the privilege – may not use a dog or dogs to hunt for bear unless they employ and hunt in the presence of a resident Maine guide.
What do you do with a bear you’ve killed? You can sell it. According to DIFW, A person who has lawfully killed and registered a deer, bear or moose may (without a hide dealer’s license) sell:
-The head, hide, antlers and feet of that deer.
-The head, hide, antlers, feet and bones of that moose.
-The head, hide, teeth, gallbladder (yes, gallbladder) and claws (not attached to the paws) of that bear.
Hopefully, no reader of this blog has ever been chased and treed by a pack of dogs, so it may be difficult to identify with the fear and panic a bear must experience, but we know a bit about being trapped -trapped in a dead end job, or trapped in a cycle of depression, trapped in an unhappy relationship, inundated in a whirl of unpaid bills, even confined in a cell. These are feelings we all want to avoid and with good reason. However, at least we are not trapped in ways that we legalize for animals. You’d have to wonder why any civilized society condones such treatment when we ourselves know the stress and fear of far lesser forms of trapping.
Traps also capture animals that inadvertently trigger them in what wildlife officials describe as ‘incidental takes.’ In a profession that routinely describes what it does or allows by resorting to euphemisms – as if they really don’t want anyone to know exactly what it is that they’re doing – this particular one sounds suspiciously like ‘collateral damage’- the term used by the military to sanitize the killing and wounding of civilians in war. Of course, you’re just as dead or injured whether the ‘damage’ is intentional or not, just as your pet dog or cat or any wild or domestic animal would be when the cable is tightened or the trap is sprung.
Why should all this matter? Because whether you hunt or not – and most of us don’t – Maine’s wild animals are a public resource, not a private preserve, and when they are cruelly treated, it says a great deal about the kind of people we are and the values we hold.
The moral issue goes much deeper. Do we really want to support practices that expose any animal- not just bears – to the callous indifference to life that trapping and hounding represent? If animals must be killed for food, let it be done quickly and humanely, not held fast in a trap while racked with fear and apprehension for its very life, or chased by a pack of dogs until, worn to the point of exhaustion, it’s blasted out of a tree. No one –animal or human – should suffer like that.
For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.