As a child, I remember being thrilled by the story of Daniel Boone shooting his first bear at the age of 3 while hunting with his father. Papa Boone then proudly carved an account of the feat in a nearby tree. “Dan’l Boone kilt Bar.”
Sadly, a bear hunter in Maine might well carve the following legend today: “Dan shot a bear at close range while her head was buried in a bucket of Little Debbie snack cakes.”
I want to be clear here: I am not anti-hunting.
More than a decade ago, I retired to my wife’s family’s home of Shapleigh, after 30 years as a firefighter. I grew up fishing with my dad, but we didn’t hunt. We never had guns in the house, and my dad used to say, “With you three boys, you think I’m going to have guns in this house?”
In my 20s, I did two tours in Vietnam. It was after that I started hunting. My buddies and I would hunt waterfowl and deer all around New England — in New Hampshire and all over Maine. Hunting was good male bonding. It gave me a chance to get out with the guys without having to watch what we said or did, and to be away from the watchful eyes of our significant others.
I’m 70, but in all my time in the Maine woods, I never sought the privilege of hunting a bear. But I’ve had plenty raid the birdfeeder at our home. We know that bears are naturally shy animals that typically avoid people at all costs, but baiting changes bear behavior in Maine. It makes them less wary of folks. And year after year, barrel after barrel of junk food is dumped into our woods to perpetuate the problem even further.
I’m tired of hearing the arguments that banning the use of bait to attract bears will infringe on the tradition of hunting or that baiting is necessary to manage the bear population. They’re simply not true.
We don’t use traps to hunt deer; we don’t use dogs to hunt deer; and we don’t stick jelly donuts in a bucket to hunt deer. We don’t do it with deer, so why do it with bears? It infuriates me to no end. Bears and deer are beautiful animals, and they’re good eating.
They deserve to be hunted using fair chase rather than some hunter waiting on his duff to shoot a bear who sticks his head in a bucket full of jelly donuts. Bears also deserve more than getting chased up a tree by dogs for someone to blast off a branch and finish with a handgun, or leghold snares that could catch a hunter or unintended wildlife.
I urge people to vote with their conscience when considering the measure to prohibit these abhorrent practices. I’m ready for fair bear hunting in Maine, where the hunter has earnedthat fresh meat on the table and nobody’s offended by it. If you are, too, vote yes in November.
Rusty Smith of Shapleigh retired after 30 years as a firefighter in 2001. He served two tours in Vietnam in the 1960s. After the war, he and a group of his fellow veterans became avid hunters.