Hunting allows me to gain a better understanding of nature; a fair chase hunt fosters a continued approach to humbly respecting the animals I take.
As an avid hunter and a man of faith, I adamantly oppose shooting bear over bait.
I have hunted, fished and trapped all over North America. From 1994 to 2000, I lived in Alaska with no running water or electricity. I lived a primitive lifestyle, and I shot bears over bait.
I speak from experience when I say, baiting is not hunting; it’s just shooting.
I could put a bowl of milk out for kittens and shoot them as they come up for a drink. That’s not hunting. Hunting takes time, research, ground study, hiking, observation. Luring a bear to a specific kill site with pungent-smelling, high-calorie junk food is lazy.
Some people say calling bear baiters lazy is an insult. I say that’s calling a duck a duck.
Black bears are smart and naturally skittish. Bear baiting is designed to attract bears to an area and train them to rely on regular access to that supplemental food. In Maine, baiting begins about one month prior to the opening of bear season. Much like training your dog, bear baiting uses repetition and reward to condition bears to associate high-calorie food with humans — much like Pavlov’s dog and the ringing of the bell.
Further still, baiting changes the dynamic of ethical, stalk-and-shoot hunting. As a result, Maine is losing fair chase hunters who aren’t interested in competing with baits and traps.
All that’s required by those who call themselves “bear guides” is the ability and means to transport a bait bucket or barrel and a nonresident who has purchased a hunting license but is probably not a hunter. Then, they head to a tree stand 150 feet off a well-traveled way.
Bear baiting makes for both lazy hunters and lazy bears.
All said, I hear the complaint that finding a bear to kill and stuff or turn into a rug is going to be more challenging after this ban. It will be more challenging, and it will be more sporting. Hunting a bear can certainly be done without bait. It will involve the challenge of a fair chase hunt.
Not everybody likes to work hard. But the idea that bear baiting is anything but lazy is bull snot, plain and simple.
Opponents of a bear bait ban urge sportsmen and women to circle the wagons before anti-hunters end bear hunting. That apocalyptic rhetoric is nonsense. As a hunter, I’m here to say that is not what this campaign seeks to do.
In reality, the data clearly demonstrates that bear hunting participation will increase after a ban on baiting. The three other states that have most recently banned bear baiting all experienced a clear trend: first, a brief period of adjustment, then bear hunting participation and revenue increased, and the bear population stabilized. Colorado, Washington and Oregon all banned baiting about 20 years ago. Across those three states, the number of bear hunters has risen since then by an average of 287 percent. Bear take increased across the board, too.
The number of bear hunters in Colorado has more than tripled since the state prohibited baiting and hounding. In the wake of the passage of the Colorado bear initiative, the state Division of Wildlife wrote, “The passage of the 1992 initiative has had no detectable adverse effects on bear hunting or bear management in Colorado. It has shown clearly that a black bear population can be efficiently and effectively managed without recourse to bait, hounds, or a spring season.”
A ban on bear bait is not an end to all hunting. Rather, it is a return to fair chase hunting.
Equally apparent is the evidence from Maine that baiting doesn’t work. Ten years ago, the proponents of baiting said that they needed these practices to control the bear population. Simply put, they were wrong. In the last 10 years, the bear population has grown almost 30 percent. If you look back to 1975, the population has increased by more than 250 percent. Clearly, baiting isn’t a viable wildlife management tool.
Between now and November, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting seeks to educate voters about the hazards of bear baiting and the obvious cruelty of bear hounding and trapping. I urge my fellow sportsmen not to be stampeded by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and distracted by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife staff members posing for pictures with bear cubs.
As sportsmen and citizens, it is important to restore fair chase to bear hunting. Please support the initiative to ban cruel and unsporting bear hunting methods by voting yes in November.
Josh Phillips is a resident of Scarborough.