I hunted as hard as any man for 30 years when I was younger. As a longtime Maine hunter, I am asking the hunters in the state to join with me in supporting the Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting ballot question in November with a “yes” vote. This broad coalition gathered nearly 80,000 signatures from Maine voters to place a reasonable measure on the ballot that will simply put a stop to several unnecessary, cruel and downright unsporting bear hunting practices. It will allow Maine’s rich bear hunting heritage to endure for perpetuity.
Bear hounding, bear baiting and bear trapping are three practices that are completely out of step with Maine hunters’ time-honored principle of fair chase, which holds that the quarry should have a reasonable chance to escape the hunter.
At 90 years old, I am looking back and looking forward. Looking back, I fondly remember my days hunting in the Maine wild. Looking forward, I want to ensure that my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren have the same opportunities to experience wildlife in the pristine Maine wild and to embrace fair chase hunting, which won’t be possible without prohibiting the practices of bear hounding, baiting and trapping this November.
In all the years I spent hunting in Maine, I came across many bears — in trees, on the ground or even fishing — papa bears, mama bears and even baby bears. Not once did any of them gnash their teeth at me or act aggressive toward me in any way. They ran, faster than I could ever run.
Today, houndsmen outfit dogs with high-tech radio collars or GPS devices that transmit signals to computers so they don’t even need to keep up with the chase but remotely can monitor their dogs’ movements. At the end of the chase, which can last for hours, the exhausted bear takes refuge in a tree until the shooter finally arrives to shoot the bear at close range.
Bear baiters dump about 7 million pounds of human junk food into the wilds of Maine every year to lure in bears for an easy trophy kill. In Maine, we don’t bait moose or deer, because that’s not fair chase. Hunting bears should be just as challenging as hunting any other wild and free animal.
Baits comprising pastries, pizzas, candies and rotting meat have helped to significantly grow Maine’s bear population. In the last 10 years, Maine’s bear population has increased more than 30 percent. In 2004, we were told that baiting was needed to control the bear population; that has been proven to be untrue.
Trappers generally bait snares with rotting food and pastries to attract bears to a particular spot in the woods. A bear becomes a regular visitor to the baited area, then one day steps into a snare trap. As the bear struggles, the trap tightens, causing injuries and leaving the bear to suffer for hours before the trapper returns to shoot it at point blank range.
Most hunters will agree there’s nothing fair or sporting about a pack of dogs wearing high-tech radio collars chasing down a terrified bear, luring bears with barrels full of human junk food for an easy trophy kill or pulling a handgun on a bear while her foot is trapped in a snare.
Hounding, baiting and trapping lack the very skill that draws most hunters to the sport: the challenge of tracking and finding the bear. These practices give hunting a bad image by mocking the notion of sportsmanship and fair chase.
Not only are such practices unfair and cruel, they are entirely unnecessary to manage the bear population. States with a rich hunting heritage like Maine’s — including Washington, Oregon and Colorado — have successful bear hunting seasons without resorting to these unsporting practices.
I am not against hunting bears, and neither is the Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting coalition, only the way in which they are hunted. It seems to me giving the bears the same chance to live as other wild animals involves a challenge to a hunter, rather than using traps, bait or dogs.
I am asking the hunters to give the bears as much of a chance to run free as any other animal. Voting yes in November will give them that chance.
Mary Moulton is a lifelong hunter who lives in Livermore Falls.